NAIAS 2012 Green Car Design Preview

In recent years, the NAIAS has been characterized, in part, by an industry wide ‘green’ drive that has seen maker’s exhibitions at the show full of eco-friendly cars.  As the origin of the “Detroit Three” however, the NAIAS’s hometown is understandably more famous for Hemi V8s than regenerative braking.  Even so, the 2010 show saw the debut of the ‘Electric Avenue’ – a 37,000 square foot feature showcasing nearly 20 new electric vehicles.  So when did things start to change?

Green cars started appearing at the NAIAS around the millennium and throughout the last decade their presence at the show has grown and grown, cumulating in 2010’s eco-fest.  Last year the ‘eco’ vibe at the show had subsided a little, possibly because manufacturers were keen on more conventional models that could regenerate coffers depleted by a horrendous recession.

Honda was the first to introduce a feasible out-and-out hybrid car at the 1999 show when they unveiled the Insight VV Concept.  Twelve years later it’s Toyota’s production ready Prius ‘c’ that will debut at Motor City, Toyota having since dominated the mass-production hybrid market at Honda’s expense.  In fact, in 2011 the USA overtook Japan to become the Prius’s largest market and it is for this reason that manufacturers have traditionally been enthusiastic about debuting their latest green creations at the NAIAS.  With the automotive tide shifting fast towards sustainability, gaining the attention and praise of the American market is now of paramount importance.

Honda Insight VV Concept

Toyota Prius C Concept

Although ‘green’ as a concept has now taken off and is steadily gathering pace, it took a while to establish itself in the USA – who’s manufacturers were slow to adopt and develop green technology.  They are now learning a lesson that may yet become more painful.  Having originally dismissed the Prius as a bad business strategy in around 2005, GM are now behind in the environmental auto race and, as impressive as the Volt is, as a business case it is still several years behind the Toyota.  Chrysler and, to a lesser extent, Ford both fall into the same bracket.

Chevrolet Volt

The paying public have also sat up and taken note, in no small part due to increasing fuel prices.  Sales of hybrid cars in the 1st quarter of 2011 were up 33.9% compared to 2010 and with the prices of fuel unlikely to fall this figure can be expected to increase.  Green cars are certainly accepted and indeed receive huge publicity.  Their repeated presence in Detroit bodes well.

Mainstream green cars are not usually known for their sporting pretensions but bold lines and a surprisingly aggressive stance have defined many recent NAIAS debutants.  With green cars becoming established in manufacturers line-ups, changes in design language have been rife recently with the emphasis on reinvention and repurposing existing designs with eco technology.  The most significant automotive designs will acknowledged at the prestigious EyesOn Design Awards this year.             

Below is a snap-shot preview of what to expect at the North American Intenational Auto Show 2012!

BMW 2012 ActiveHybrid 3

Powered by a 330hp 6-cylinder engine mated to an 8-speed auto box and an electric motor producing 55hp.  Averaged 36.7mpg in EU test cycles – excellent given the power on offer.  The ActiveHybrid technology allows the car to run on electric power for up to 2.5 miles with a top speed of 37mph.

Volvo XC60 Plug-in Hybrid concept

Blends a 276bhp 4-cylinder petrol engine with a 69bhp electric motor.  Potential for 100mpg and 53g/km CO2 (unbelievable if it’s true…).  Can travel 28 miles on electric power alone and 600 as a hybrid.  As N. America is the target market, Volvo feel the car is “ideal for the American motorist who wants an electric car while at the same time retaining all the power and capacity that comes in his or her present vehicle.”

Toyota NS4 Plug-in Hybrid Concept

Very little has been revealed about this car other than its name.  What is likely is that the NS4 is a showcase of Toyota’s future hybrid design direction, rather than a platform to demonstrate any new technology.  However, BMW and Toyota are known to be working on a new lithium-ion battery pack.

Lexus LF-LC Hybrid Concept

Pictures of the LF-LC were leaked a couple of weeks ago and as a result Lexus have decided to give an official press release themselves.  Like the NS4, the LF-LC gives little away about its ‘high technology’.  It has, however, been created from a ‘clean sheet of paper’, using ‘organic shapes to achieve a close connection between driver and car’.  Lexus believe the concept’s clean line create a highly distinctive, futuristic look.

AMP Grand Cherokee EV

Electric SUV specialist AMP intends to reveal a number of electric models at NAIAS 2012 but for now we have solid details of the Grand Cherokee EV.  Headline figures are zero emissions 100-mile range and a $56,000 price tag.  It is thought that AMP wants the Cherokee to compete with Tesla’s Model S.

Mercedes E-Class Hybrids (Pair)

Mercedes will reveal two hybrid E-Class models – the E300 BlueTEC Hybrid (available as a saloon or estate) and the E400 Hybrid.  The respective 204bhp and 306bhp engines are each aided by a 27bhp electric motor – the E300 delivering over 55mpg.  The E400’s V6 will deliver a combined 27mpg.

Nissan Electric Van Concept

Not a lot is known about this concept although it is believed that it will be based on the NV series.  Nissan say “this concept previews a future production version of a full electric vehicle designed to provide businesses or families with flexible, roomy cargo space, while offering a dramatic CO2 footprint reduction.”

VIA Motors Pickup Truck SUV Van

All three vehicles are based on VIA’s eREV technology.  The stats are impressive – they will have the ability to drive 30 to 40 miles on advanced, non-flammable, lithium-ion batteries before travelling a further 400 miles using the onboard generator, which can average up to 100 mpg.  Production is scheduled to begin in 2012 with plans to increase production to 20,000 units per year over the next few years.


Smart For-Us Concept

Smart will continue to develop their quirky niche with the release of an urban-pickup concept.  The zero-emission electric For-Us will be powered by a 55 kW magneto-electric motor that will allow the car a top speed of over 120kph.  With an emphasis on ovoid shapes and textured surfaces, the little truck’s design language will follow the ForVision concept revealed at the Frankfurt motor show whilst retaining the trademark ‘Tridion’ safety cell.

Honda/Acura NSX Concept

Perhaps the biggest story of Detroit 2012.  Acura say the NSX concept will represent the styling direction for the next generation of the brand’s ‘super sports’ cars and if it looks anything like the car Robert Downey Jr was seen behind the wheel of on the set of “The Avengers” it will bring the house down.  Expect V6 hybrid power and 4WD.  

ILX Hybrid Concept

Acura describe the ILX as “a styling study of an all-new luxury compact sedan scheduled for launch in Spring 2012.”  Based on the global Civic platform, the car will act as an entry point for people wanting to buy into the Acura brand.  Amongst a choice of three powertrains there is the company’s first gas-electric hybrid on offer.   

Honda Accord Coupe Hybrid Concept

Without any visual releases from Honda, all we have to go on is that this concept will “convey the dynamic and aggressive profile of the ninth-generation 2013 Honda Accord.”  What we can expect is that this ‘concept’ will look remarkably similar to the final production model, as has been the case with Honda in the past.  The Accord will carry what is expected to be Honda’s new plug-in hybrid system. 

Volkswagen 2013 Jetta Hybrid

“Starting in 2013, the high-volume Golf and Jetta models of the Volkswagen brand are expected to dominate the hybrid and electric vehicle market” – the reality is that VW are probably the only manufacturer that could get away with making a statement like that.  Aesthetically the same as the new 2011 Jetta, the 2013 hybrid will be powered VW’s 4-cylinder TSI engine and a lithium-ion battery powered electric motor.  Interestingly, its release will see the first time a manufacturer has offered a comparably priced clean diesel and hybrid in the same line-up.

Volkswagen E-Bugster

The new E-Bugter, based on the 2012 Beetle and a tribute to the Ragster Concept from 2005 features an electric motor symbolically positioned in the rear of the car.  Driving range is the standard 100 miles with standard and quick charge options that recharges the car to 80% potential.  The slick combo of the sportier Beetle and razor tailored roof-top will surely enamour the crowds at the show!

Ford 2013 Fusion

For the 2013 model year, the Fusion is expected to have undergone a complete redesign as well as using a new compact lithium-ion battery pack and an updated powertrain.  Visually, the Fusion will take inspiration from Ford’s Evos concept, including slim headlights and a higher mounted trapezoidal grill – this is good news.   Ford has high-hopes for this car and, ideally, would expect it to sell as much as 50% more than its forerunner. 

Lincoln MKZ Concept

It’s been a little over a year sign Lincoln took on Max Wolff as Design Director and the MKZ concept will reveal the direction Lincoln’s design language is taking.  The stakes are high for Lincoln and more mimicking of Ford will not pay off.  Max Wolff has said that the MKZ is “the biggest statement Lincoln has ever made at an auto show” and that it “represents the reinvention of Lincoln”.   Aside from the aesthetics, the MKZ will have the option of a 4-cylinder/electric motor hybrid, although this will be academic if the car doesn’t impress visually.