If Mood Wasn't Electric, The Cars Sure Were

ChryslerIf the atmosphere at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week wasn't exactly electric, a lot of the cars were. The show had more of an alternative-power zeitgeist than any such confab in recent memory, with Ford, Toyota, Honda, VW and others rolling out diesel, electric, hybrid gas/electric cars and SUVs.

Chrysler's ENVI (short for "environment") showed five electric concept vehicles under the Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep banners; Toyota Motor Sales used the show to reveal its 2010 Prius, a new hybrid for the Lexus marque and its alternative-powertrain plans; Honda unveiled the car that resurrects the Insight moniker that launched the hybrids segment; Ford talked up its long-range plans for long-range electric cars and trucks.

With plans to sell a million hybrids per year starting next year, Toyota showed a number of alternative vehicles, including the third-generation 2010 Prius, the new Lexus HS250H and a version of its new 2010 Camry powered by compressed natural gas.



The company also unveiled an "urban commuter" battery-powered concept called FT-EV, based on the Japan-market iQ 4-seater. A production version of the FT will go on sale in the U.S. in 2012, per the company. Toyota said the vehicle is intended solely for short jaunts of 50 miles or less to work and public transportation.

"We must address the inevitability of peak oil by developing vehicles powered by alternatives to liquid-oil fuel, as well as new concepts, like the iQ, that are lighter in weight and smaller in size. This kind of vehicle, electrified or not, is where our industry must focus its creativity," said Irv Miller, group vice president, environmental and public affairs, in a release.

Toyota plans to launch up to 10 hybrid models by early next year around the world. The company also is accelerating plans to put plug-in hybrids in global lease fleets this year. It will start with the Prius plug-in hybrid, which it will lease for market analysis, with customers offering feedback on performance and practical matters surrounding recharging and use. Toyota says 150 of the vehicles will be placed with lessees in the U.S.

Chrysler, which launched the ENVI program last year, showed three updated versions of electric-powered concepts and two new electric vehicles. They included the Chrysler 200C EV concept electric-powered sports sedan; electric-powered versions of the Jeep Patriot and Wrangler; the Dodge Circuit electric vehicle; and an electric-powered Chrysler Town & Country minivan. The company, which wants 500,000 electrics on the road by 2013, plans to produce one of them next year for the U.S. and in 2010 for Europe, and three more such vehicles by 2013.

Analysts are skeptical. David Champion, Consumer Reports' director of automotive testing, says the array of electric concept cars notwithstanding, the pure-electric vehicle is still largely a work in progress. "The issues are limited range, long charge times and durability," he says. "People don't make a $30,000 investment in something that will only last a couple of years like you do for a cell phone and laptop. Really, the viable tech is still hybrid."

He notes that GM's Chevy Volt--which was originally planned as a plug-in hybrid but will launch as a traditional hybrid--cost billions to develop, and "Chrysler doesn't have hundreds, much less billions, to develop an electric vehicle."

Says Todd Turner, president of Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Car Concepts: "The Chrysler 200C was put together pretty quickly, and it's not on a platform--based on the Dodge Challenger--that would be realistic; you would not want to have that kind of vehicle on such a heavy platform."

Ford used the show to elaborate on a plan to use partnerships with tech companies like Magna International to bring a raft of electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles to market. The first will be a lithium ion battery-powered small car based on the Ford Fiesta platform, in 2011, per the company.

Also in the works is a plug-in hybrid with lithium ion batteries, also in 2011, and in 2012 a second hybrid using lithium ion based on the Ford Fusion, a hybrid version of which goes on sale in March.

Says Turner: "In the case of GM and Chrysler, they didn't show anything that was not for political advantage. Ford actually talked about vehicles they had real launch dates for. And I think Toyota and Ford are running neck and neck for plug-in hybrids."

2 comments about "If Mood Wasn't Electric, The Cars Sure Were ".
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  1. Walter Graff from Bluesky Media, January 14, 2009 at 8:16 a.m.

    Don't hold your breath. Fully electric cars are a gimmick and will never be main stream just as hybrids are few and far between. If you think this country is attempting to head away from oil as our main resource for fuel, you are sadly mistaken. And considering my electric bill last month was $500, I'm not planning on plugging in a car to my home to make it cost me another $1000 a month in electricity. Concept cars tell you one thing, it will never exist.

  2. Brian Olson from Video Professor, Inc, January 14, 2009 at 10:47 a.m.

    I want to share an op-ed from my boss, John W. Scherer with you. There is a way to put back the "electric" in the Detroit mood.

    "As a veteran CEO I know today’s economy is impacting everyone. You won’t see me in front of Congress asking for a bailout. Like the majority of American businesses we here at Video Professor are on our own.

    Last month, Congress voted $15 Billion to provide a bailout to Chrysler, GM and Ford to keep them afloat, or in this case, on the road.

    Two weeks later all three reported huge drops in sales compared to a year ago. They’re stuck in neutral, Congress is stuck in reverse.

    The Big 3 need to change the way they do business. So does Congress. It’s our money.

    The problem is people aren’t buying cars. Bailouts won’t get customers into showrooms.

    Here’s a solution:

    Offer a $10,000 tax credit along with 0% financing to any American taxpayer who buys a GM, Ford, or Chrysler product by April 15th, 2009.

    A tax credit benefits everyone – manufacturers, their employees, suppliers, dealers and oh yes, American taxpayers. Sales create revenue, which reduces the amount of taxpayer money needed from the government. Taxpayers benefit when they file their returns April 15th.

    Detroit makes great cars. I own one myself. This isn’t about quality. It’s about solutions.

    President-Elect Obama expects solutions from Congress when he takes office. How about helping out business and taxpayers at the same time?"

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