The Detroit International Auto Show, which opens to the public tomorrow, is always a place for automakers to show off their latest toys, but it has unusual urgency this year. With the Big Three U.S. car companies in big trouble, you would think they'd start paying attention to the electric and hybrid markets more than ever before, instead of just giving green themes lip service. In browsing this year's green vehicles, however, the top models still come from overseas and smaller American startups.
Still, that doesn't mean they shouldn't be celebrated. From a Chinese battery maker's electric five-seater to a luxury hybrid made by a Silicon Valley startup, we picked the top green vehicles from this year's Auto Show. Follow the Continue link for the complete list.
1. BYD e6
A product of China's biggest battery maker, BYD, this crossover should hit the U.S. in 2011. Built on the same platform at their previously proposed F6DM electric car (due to roll out in Europe next year), the five-seater will go 186 miles on a single charge, 0 to 60 in 10 seconds, and 2,000 cycles — or 373,000 miles — on the same battery. Top speed? A respectable 100 mph.
2. Tesla Roadster Sport
Defying the economy and flipping the bird to going downscale, California's Tesla Motors unveiled the new Roadster Sport at Detroit. It goes 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds (0.2 second faster than the original Roadster), and at $128,000, speeds off with $17,000 more of your own green than the original Roadster. It will be built with their planned Model S's drivetrain; the Model S debuts in 2011.
3. Fisker Karma Luxury Hybrid
Another Silicon Valley girl with some big-daddy venture capital backing, this sweet baby rolls off the production line in late 2009 at an upper-middle-class-friendly price tag of $80,000. The Karma is lithium-ion plug-in hybrid, and will run 50 miles purely on electric. Performance-wise, it'll hit the Tesla's 125 mph top speed, but take a relatively sluggish 5.6 seconds to get to 60.
4. Bright Automotive's Yet-Unnamed Hybrid
Indiana's Bright Automotive unveiled… nothing, officially. But the talk at the show was their planned 100mpg hybrid, the one they'll trot out at the 24th Electric Vehicle Symposium in Stavanger, Norway — and hopefully debut as a concept car in the U.S. before that. The vehicle will "make the most of the battery technology by using light materials, aerodynamic design and low-rolling resistance of tires" using different chemistry combinations around existing lithium-based battery technologies to keep the planned car "cost-competitive." Production is still three years off, though, pending raising all the required capital to get their line going.
5. Toyota FT-EV
Based on Toyota's new 118-inch iQ commuter car that comes out this year, the FT-EV concept car debuted at Detroit should be rolling off production lines in 2012. No stats or prices on the FT-EV, but the gas-powered iQ should get 60 mpg and sits "3+1" in its cabin (three adults and a child). But honestly, it's meant to be a "final mile" vehicle to get you to your office, the train station or the drugstore; the planned 50-mile range of the FT-EV bears that out. Toyota also unveiled a new Prius — but it looks a lot like the old Prius.
6. Honda Insight
Honda unveiled an updated version of its first hybrid, the Insight, for the 2010 model year. One thing it loses is those sad plastic fairings over the rear wheel wells that used to scream "I'm green but gutless," like vehicular jazz-hands. If you've noticed, it looks a lot like the current Civic, but this two-seater will exceed the 70mpg fuel-sipping of its previous, poor-selling Insight ancestors, and at $19,000, runs a few thousand less than the Civic Hybrid available now. It's the green bargain of the show.
7. Lexus HS250h
Already nicknamed "the sexy Prius," Toyota's luxury division will begin delivering the 2010 HS250h to dealerships later this year. While Lexus already has hybrid SUVs, this $35,000 sedan aims at the "entry-level luxury car market." No fuel economy rating yet, but Lexus says it'll match the 33 mpg of the gas-powered two-seater by Smart. No word on the number of coffee cup holders for your organic bottled tea.
8. The Jeep Patriot EV
Chrysler claims they'll be building this in 2010 along with stablemate EVs the Chrysler 200c, Jeep Wrangler and Dodge Circuit… if the bailout money holds out. An electric version of Jeep's smaller Patriot SUV, already considered one of the most fuel-efficient SUVs in the streets today, the Patriot EV will have a 400-mile driving range and will be capable of cruising 40 miles on electric power with extra provided by a small gas engine and integrated generator, similar to what the Chevy Volt will offer. No price or production details are available, but in this economic environment for the Big Three, who'd believe them anyway? It promises a quarter-mile time of 16 seconds, which almost seems like you could outrun it yourself.