2010 Fiat 500 BEVEnlarge Photo
We don't use the word "I" very much in our writing at TCC, but this time, I suppose I'll have to: I'm going to give my take on the 2010 Detroit Auto Show from the vantage point of my office, which lies -- inconveniently -- about 1,000 miles to the south.
What can I add to the discussion from here in New Orleans? Well, while Marty, John, and Bengt are surrounded by the "trees" of the convention, I think I've got a pretty good view of the industry "forest", and I've spotted about five trends that look to have some staying power. Of course, NAIAS is far from over, and a few more themes may emerge before our gang stumble onto redeye flights and the Detroit booth professionals return to their, um, booths. If you spot something notable that I've missed (it wouldn't be the first time), feel free to send an email or leave a comment below.
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1. Real EVs
Seeing alternative vehicles at auto shows is nothing new -- in fact, you could argue that we've seen them for over 150 years -- but many of those have been profoundly experimental. This year, however, things look a bit different: we're not just seeing hybrids (though there are lots of them), we're also seeing a bevy of battery electric vehicles like the Fiat 500 BEV (lower left) and the revamped Audi e-tron (above left). And of course, there are the hybrids-of-a-different-color, like the Chevrolet Volt, which John had the chance to drive over the weekend (minus the terrible dancers). In fact, it's practically a rarity to hear any news from the show floor about a pure combustion engine; hybrids and EVs have nearly become the norm.
Now, I know there's a big difference between auto expos and real life. There's a lot of media hype surrounding EVs, and I'm wary of getting too caught up in the giddiness of it all -- especially when neither consumers nor the charging infrastructure are quite ready for vast numbers of battery-powered vehicles. However, many of the models being show at NAIAS are both viable and desirable, which means there's at least a 50/50 chance that some will find their way onto American roads.
Even better, the automakers themselves seem to be embracing the technology rationally, taking it all in stride. Of the lot, I think Audi's approach is most interesting: the company has refused to do anything in the "mild hybrid" school, insisting that they're in search of the real deal, be it EVs like the e-tron, hybrids, or efficient combustion engines. To me, that says that even power junkies like Johan de Nysschen see the future, and it's far less gassy.
One surprising thing, though: the lack of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. But then, maybe that's in keeping with this year's level-headed tone.