Green Cars and Green Claims – Part 1

This is part one of a three-part series. Follow this link for all Detroit Auto Show 2008 articles.

At the Detroit Auto Show I’ve seen many claims and examples of cleaner vehicles and alternative fuel vehicles. As a guest of GM I had the closest look at their vehicles, but there were plenty of unveilings and new technologies from most auto manufacturers. In this three-part series I’ll take a look at some of the major green announcements and vehicles from the show.

GM

Most of GM’s brands had a green announcement in one sort or another, even Hummer. Under their banner of “gas friendly to gas free”, GM unveiled five different programs to reduce gasoline usage. These were:

General Motors Gas Friendly to Gas Free

– Fuel efficiency
– Ethanol E85 (see my Coskata announcement)
– Hybrid
– Electric (such as the Chevy Volt)
– Fuel cell (hydrogen)

In fact, most of the talk with any GM employee turned to green issues whether in press conferences, group interviews or one-on-one talks. The wind seems to have truly shifted firmly in the belief that in order to sell more cars in the future, the reliance on (mainly) foreign oil needs to be broken – see my interview with Bob Lutz, GM’s Vice Chairman.

Saturn Vue Two-Mode Hybrid

Saturn extended their commitment to the Green Line of the Vue and Aura, positioning Saturn as the green brand for GM. The 2009 Vue Two mode hybrid uses a system that has been used in buses since 2003 in over 1,000 vehicles in 70 cities. Apparently it is 50% more fuel efficient than it’s non-hybrid version, and can get 500 miles on one tank. The engine turns off when idling, it uses electric only at low speed, and has seamless regenerative braking. They also showed their Flextreme concept vehicle that can drive for 30 miles on electric power only.

Chevy Volt Concept - photo from OhGizmo
Photo via OhGizmo

Chevrolet had their Equinox hydrogen fuel cell car around, but released no more news that was already available. Project Driveway customers are currently test driving the vehicle in the LA and Washington DC areas where there are some compressed hydrogen stations. There was however plenty of talk about the Chevy Volt, the range extended electric vehicle (REEV). The Volt is a plugin electric hybrid, where it will drive on electric only for 40 miles and then the range can be extended with a “normal” gasoline motor. More about this can be heard in the interview with Bob Lutz, and a few more interviews that are to come.

Cadillac Provoq

Cadillac showed their two mode hybrid Escalade that will deliver more than a 50% improvement in fuel economy in city driving. It’s out this summer 2008. They also demonstrated their Provoq concept which runs on a hydrogen fuel and emits only water vapour. 6kg of compressed hydrogen lasts for around 300 miles. In an interview with Troy Clarke, GM North American President, I asked him where someone would buy compressed hydrogen from in the US? Los Angeles, Washington DC, and some Universities in the North-East. However it is made all over the US, just distribution is lacking at the moment. I’ll have more on this interview in the next few days, please see our interviews page.

Hummer launched their HX, which whilst not environmentally friendly is at least more environmentally friendly, getting mid-20s mpg. OK, that’s a stretch, Hummer is not a good example and whilst there will always be buyers for these cars, much more effort needs to be made. It looks cool though, like a moon buggy, so I could easily see it being fuelled by alternative fuels. In 2009 Hummer will get diesel (making it compatible with bio-disel), and ethanol in 2009/2010. Future models are planned to be even smaller (to appeal to European markets) with no return to the H1.

Hummer HX
Photo via OhGizmo

Finally for GM, Saab launched their BioPower Concept, a vehicle optimized for bioethanol (E85) fuel, and various other engine enhancements to increase fuel efficiency.

Ford

Ford’s brands had less of a green message, but there were still positive signs of a move towards more efficient and less polluting vehicles.

Ford EcoBoost

Ford launched their EcoBoost system, a way of using GTDI engines more efficient. Fuel efficiency will be up to 20% higher, emissions 15% lower, and improved engine performance by a combination of techniques, such as direct injection and turbo charging.

Their Escape Hybrid was also shown prominently.

Mazda showed no sign of their Tribute Touring Hybrid as far as I could see, however this might have been put out for the public show. The Mazda Furai concept would run on ethanol if it was in production, and the Mazda5 Hydrogen RE Hybrid will run on, er, hydrogen.

Volvo ReCharge Concept

Volvo had their ReCharge concept out front and center. Another example of a plug-in hybrid (a PHEV – Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicle literally meaning you can plug it in to a household socket), it has a battery only range of 60 miles before the combustion engine takes over to power the car and recharge the battery. For 100 miles of driving, the first 60 are zero emissions and the remaining 40 miles can be on E85 at 60mpg, making an over 150mpg average. It has four electric motors, one at each wheel and 0–60 mph takes 9 seconds with top speed around 100 mph. A one-hour charge will be good for 30 miles and 3 hours will allow a full charge. No news on possible production though.

Volvo ReCharge Concept

Lincoln had their Lincoln MKT a “luxury utility vehicle” with body panels composed or around 85% post-consumer plastic waste and an EcoBoost engine.

Mercury Mariner Hybrid

Land Rover showed their two-door LRX Concept which is electric only under 20 mph and will run on a turbo-diesel hybrid above that. They expect over 50 mpg, which will be top class.

Mercury showed their Mariner Hybrid that relies on electric for under 25 mph and delivers around 30mpg.

Parts two and three are coming soon, including Ferrari, Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes, Fisker’s $100,000 REEV, Mini, BMW, Volkswagen and much more.

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