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January 18, 2011

NAIAS Carnival of Cars: In Snowy Detroit, Alternate Fuel Vehicles are HOT


Range Rover Evoque at NAIAS
Toyota Unveils Prius V at 2011 NAIAS
smartcars at 2011 NAIAS

Neither snow nor rain nor delayed flights can keep the automotive world out of Detroit for the North American International Auto Show, which is being held at Cobo Hall through January 23. Press days were held on January 10 and 11. Here are some highlights:

Alternative Fuel and Engines Reign

Chevrolet's game-changing Volt continued its winning streak of Car of the Year awards (it was also named Green Car of the Year at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November). This was the first electric vehicle to be named North American Car of the Year -- but judging from all the new electrics, hybrids and alternate fuel concepts on display in Detroit, it won't be the last.

2013 VW Golf Blue e-Motion at NAIAS
  2012 VW Passat at NAIAS

Volkswagen showed off its TDI line of clean diesel cars, the new hybrid version of its roomy Touareg crossover vehicle (which we liked last April, when it debuted at the New York Auto Show) and an all-electric Golf which they say will have an 80-mile range when fully charged (currently scheduled for sale in 2013).

All of those alternate fuel vehicles have been seen at previous shows, and serve as a nice reminder of the range of fuel options offered by Volkswagen.

VW's big launch in Detroit was a larger, midsize version of the Passat with a TDI diesel engine that the company says will get up to 43 miles per gallon. It may not be cutting-edge, but its suggested retail base price of just $20,000 may be very tempting for women in the market for a family sedan. This is actually $8,000 less than the previous, smaller Passat.

Prius Goes Plural

Toyota Introduces the Prius V at 2011 at NAIAS The Passat is not the only established small car with a growth spurt. The big news at Toyota was the launch of a new, bigger five-passenger Prius.

Although it has nearly the same footprint as the Prius' current 3rd Generation model, Toyota President Akio Toyoda stated the Prius V (for versatility) has 60% more cargo space (34 cubic feet), and was designed to satisfy the needs of young families.

I especially like the fact that standard features on the Prius V include a backup camera.

Coy signage around the Toyota exhibit ("Prius Goes Plural") pre-saged CEO Akio Toyoda's announcement of the expansion of its Prius nameplate into a lineup of five models: In addition to the 3rd Generation and Prius V (to become available this summer), Toyota also showcased two additional models for 2012: the long-awaited Prius Plug-in Hybrid (PHV) and the sub-compact Prius C.

Ford's Focus is Also Electric

119_1153The huge Ford exhibit also highlighted upcoming hybrids and plug-ins, headlined by the newly announced Focus Electric

Ford has been building green credibility in recent years, thanks to endeavors like using recycled and sustainable materials in current vehicles and retrofitting their factories with environment-conscious innovations like the green roof at their Rouge River assembly plant in Dearborn.

The Focus Electric isn't scheduled for sale until late this year. Ford promises that it will get speeds up to 84 miles per hour and get better mileage per gallon than GM's Chevy Volt, and can be charged in under four hours with an optional 240-volt charging station. But the company's press release on the vehicle is somewhat vague on the Electric's range, saying only that it "is designed to offer enough range to cover the majority of daily driving habits of Americans."

119_1170 Ford also debuted its new European-style C-MAX "multi-activity vehicle" people movers, which will have flexible seating for up to seven passengers. It sported my favorite new feature of any vehicle I saw at the show: a hands-free lift-gate that borrows technology from Microsoft's Xbox Kinect. If you've ever had to haul groceries while wrangling kids, you know what I mean.

The standard C-MAX will be powered by Ford's efficient Eco-Boost engine, but beginning in 2012, buyers may also opt for a C-MAX hybrid or a plug-in hybrid model, dubbed the C-MAX Energi.

Even Porsche Gets Into the Alternative Act 

Porsche 918 RSR Debut at 2011 NAIAS At last year's New York Auto show, Porsche displayed a hybrid Cayenne S. But SUV's are not for everyone, and I confess I've always had a hard time wrapping my mind around a Porsche that isn't a sports car.

But the Cayenne S was proof that the world's auto makers are serious about engineering a transition away from traditional gasoline-powered internal combustion engines.

And if anyone had any lingering doubts about their intentions, Porsche blew those away with the unveiling of the 918 RSR - a hybrid concept race car that would cost a fortune if it was actually available for sale. 

Panamera More attainable was another Porsche hybrid on display in Detroit: The Panamera S. And by "attainable," I mean with a sticker price of just under $90,000. It's no surprise that while taking the photo on the left I nearly ran over the one celebrity I happened to see in Detroit: chef Wolfgang Puck, who was also checking out this green beauty.


The North American International Auto Show is open to the public January 15 through January 23 from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. at Coho Hall in Detroit. Visit the show's website for more information.

2010by Donna Schwartz Mills, Contributing Editor

Donna Schwartz Mills is a Los Angeles-based writer who also contributes to CBS Digital Local Los Angeles, the Yahoo! Motherboard and her personal site,SoCal Mom. She attended the North American International Auto Show as part of a Driving Green Technology event hosted by the Ford Motor Company, which paid for her travel and accommodations.  

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