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How green was the Detroit auto show 2008?

The North American international auto show every year in January in Detroit is the largest in the world. So often the biggest news is revealed at this event. The biggest shift last couple of years is clearly towards ‘greener’ cars. So how much big news did we see this year on this topic? I’d say there was a record number of announcements on greener cars especially from US carmakers, but the number of new production models for 2008/2009 was very low.

As far as I know I only noticed 2 new green production vehicles for 2008/2009:


No other Hybrid cars were announced for 2008/2009 so this was disappointing. However there were a couple of promising announcements. Here are some:

  • Plug-in hybrids are introduced around 2010 (Saturn Vue, possibly Prius and some other models). Imagine this: at night you charge the battery and you have a range of about 40miles which might cover your commute and the drive would be 100% emissions free. Also electricity could come from renewable energy (PSE offers this).
  • Ford would introduce EcoBoost technology on most of their vehicles. It’s a combination of various technologies like gasoline turbo-charged engines and decreasing weight. First vehicle using this technology will be the new MKV (2009)
  • Honda would introduce 2 new hybrid cars in next 2-3 years (and diesel but not a believer in that technology). The VCM 6 cylinder engine will be enhanced to run in 3 modes: 3, 4 and 6 cylinder mode.
  • Toyota announced they would announce at Detroit 2009 a new Lexus Hybrid model plus a 2nd Toyota brand new Hybrid only model. They also reiterated eventually having hybrid variants for all of their products. New Lithium-ion battery technology that could achieve 20-30% better fuel economy will still be delayed for at least 2-3 years and won’t show up in the next Prius (but probably in 2-3 years in several new models). Problem appears to be potential overheating but cost might be a factor too…
  • Audi to introduce Litium-ion based Q7/A4 Hybrid vehicles
  • More green news here: http://www.autobloggreen.com/category/detroit-auto-show/ and http://www.greencar.com/features/detroit-2008

Hybrids in the short-term seem most promising (long-term fuel-cell seems most promising). However I wonder about the extra energy to produce and recycle such vehicles. There’s one report comparing total energy cost including building, driving and recycling: Dust to Dust report. It certainly is controversial and there are some obvious flaws like life expectancy, but I do believe there’s some truth that the Prius isn’t really that green if you add cost of building Nickel for the battery + extra recycling cost at the end. Also think about this: the added energy cost of shipping a (non-domestic manufactured) vehicle overseas… But most costs would be eventually factored in the retail price except recycling (maybe gov could take care of that one day). So in theory buying the cheapest car possible means it took relatively low energy to build it but I wouldn’t go that far…. Either way, the real answer for most is to drive less probably.

I think a simply way in the US to produce ‘greener’ cars short-term is to introduce smaller engines (Ford is on the right track). It works in Europe so why not in the US when people are becoming more focused on fuel economy? For example the Audi A6 is only available as 3.2 in the US. A 2.0 engine would be 20% more fuel efficient at 29mpg combined plus it’s $10K less… Same comparisons can be made for Toyota. Mid-size Toyota cars in Europe start with 1.6/1.8 engines which would be 25% more fuel efficient than a 2.4 engine. However the new Toyota Venza seems to indicate that rather bigger engines are to come since it comes with a new 2.7 engine…  UPDATE: checkout this article on Audi A5 getting 40mpg using 2.0T engine with start/stop regeneration

Conclusion: if I should believe all the announcements then 2010 will be the big year of changes: first mainstream plug-in hybrids, lithium-ion based hybrids, tons of new Hybrid models. Link to all news: http://www.motivemag.com/features/auto_shows/2008/detroit/


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