Mean AND Green? Detroit Auto Show to Feature Cars That Are Both

January 11, 2008
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Green or mean? You’ll have your choice at this year’s Detroit Auto Show.

With mounting concerns about global warming, never mind record oil prices, and with a tough new federal fuel economy law going into effect, the auto industry has suddenly gotten religion when it comes to the environment. From hybrids to hydrogen, alternative fuels to mileage-minded powertrains, the green machines are taking over Cobo Center during this year’s North American International Auto Show.

Or are they? Petroleum may be pushing into record territory, and polar bears may be running out of ice, but there are still plenty of folks who aren’t ready to give up their muscle cars and exotic roadsters. So while GM will displaying environmentally friendly show cars, like the new Cadillac Provoq, seen above, it will also be rolling out its most powerful sports car ever, the 200 mph Corvette ZR1.

But is there someplace in the middle where green technology can also deliver the sort of performance that plenty of buyers still want? Several manufacturers are betting that’s betting that’s possible.

Ford is a prime example of today’s automotive duality. At one end of its vast, auto show display, you’ll find the latest version of its big, bad – and fuel-hungry – F-Series pickup. Elsewhere, you’ll discover several products featuring Ford’s all-new EcoBoost engines.

These gasoline turbocharged direct injection (GTDI) powertrains make massive amounts of horsepower and torque, especially compared to conventional V-6s and I-4s. In fact, Ford hopes to convince buyers of its new MKS sedan that an EcoBoost six-banger is a far more logical and fuel-efficient alternative to the V-8 alternatives offered by its competitors.

We’ll also see a new B- or micro-car offering for Ford, squarely aimed at an emerging segment of the market currently controlled by the likes of the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris.

“America has clearly gotten interested in high mileage,” declared Ford’s marketing czar, Jim Farley, but as a nation, he adds, “There are still a lot of wealthy (and not-so-affluent) people who want a Mustang KR or Corvette.”

In fact, they may have both, observes Dan Gorrell, an independent auto analyst, based in suburban Los Angeles. There are friends, he notes, who may have a Mercedes-Benz or even a Bentley in the garage, but who will commute down the crowded I-405 in their little Prius hybrid. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they’ve got an HOV sticker on the back, permitting them to dive in the diamond, or High Occupancy Vehicle, lanes without carpooling.

Indeed, it’s telling to note that for all its focus on the environment, performance remains a mainstay in smoggy California. Half of all the AMG models Mercedes builds are sold in the U.S., and in turn, half of those wind up in Greater Los Angeles.

Until now, being green-minded has typically meant sacrifice. The most fuel-efficient automobiles have been, with rare exception, stone ponies. That’s beginning to change. Lexus has tried to drive a middle ground with gasoline-electric hybrids, such as the GS 450h, whose electric motors can give the car some real torque. Meanwhile, the maker’s LS 600h is the most luxurious product Toyota has ever built.

That’s the approach of the folks at Fisker Automotive, who until now have been customizing high-performance luxury cars. They’ll be in Detroit showing off a prototype Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle, or PHEV, that would let you drive the diamond lanes in style, perhaps while never actually using a drop of gasoline.

Missing from Detroit will be the folks from Tesla, who are still struggling to resolve problems with their high-performance Roadster. If they can ever get their transmission to work right, the two-seater will deliver 0-60 times in the range of 4 seconds, while also going 200 miles between charges.

Even with conventional, gasoline engines, new technology, like Ford's EcoBoost, is making it possible to deliver better mileage - and better performance. Audi's TTS show car, meanwhile, will make a whopping 272 hp out of its modest, 2.0-liter engine. While the automaker hasn't revealed final numbers, it's hinting fuel economy will be closer to that of an I-4 than the bigger V-6s it will stand up to. And the automaker is one of several - also including Volkswagen and Mercedes - who believe they can deliver both performance and mileage with next-generation diesels.

The evolution of automotive powertrains hasn’t moved at such a pace in over a century. But what’s intriguing is the possibility that in the near future, we’ll be able to buy cars that will be both mean and green.

2009 Audi TTS, The speediest TT promises a well-rounded, dialed-up experience. by Bengt Halvorson (2008-01-09)

2008 Cadillac Provoq Concept. Cadillac fuels the notion of the zero-emission car. by Rex Roy (2008-01-08)

Ford EcoBoost: V-8 Power from Six?

Explorer concept’s new engine offers greener future. by TCC Team (2008-01-06)

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