NextCruise: A Look and a Ride in Tomorrow's Green Machines

July 22, 2008

Blink your eyes and you might not even notice when you pass through Pleasant Ridge, Michigan. The sign on Woodward Avenue says both "hello" and "goodbye." But next month, it will serve as ground zero in the green car revolution, helping transform the annual Woodward Dream Cruise from a past-tense retrospective into a glimpse of the future.

Tomorrow morning, I'll be serving as master of ceremonies at a news conference announcing the first annual NextCruise. The event itself will take place on August 15 and 16, in Pleasant Ridge, one of the cities that lines the route of the Woodward Dream Cruise, the largest automotive spectator event in the world.

Each year, the Dream Cruise brings out tens of thousands of muscle cars, hot rods, and other classics. NextCruise adds a new dimension, bringing together nine of the world's largest automakers: GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, Audi, VW, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW (next year, Honda?), each of whom will display up to three of their greenest vehicles for a static display of high-mileage and environmentally friendly automotive technology. That includes hybrids, plug-ins, diesels, fuel cell and hydrogen power, and other green machines.

That alone makes NextCruise a first-of-its-kind event. But even more compelling, each of the makers will be providing up to two vehicles for a public ride-and-drive. Getting "butts in seats" is always a challenge for automakers, and no more so than with today's new green machines. Sure, lots of folks talk about environmentally friendly automobiles, but most folks still think this means small stone ponies that cost a lot and don't offer much in the way of creature comfort.

Think again. The newest models are proving to be lean, mean, and green. The Toyota Prius is surprisingly roomy and affordable. The Lexus GS 450h is quick. Cadillac's Escalade Hybrid has plenty of towing power and even more bling. And Mercedes' new BlueTec diesels deliver performance and mileage in a single package.

Along with the nine automakers, NextCruise will feature the latest in green motor sports technology, sponsored by the Detroit Grand Prix. Participants include the ethanol-powered IndyCar Series and American Le Mans Series, which will launch the new Green Car Challenge this year. A two-seat Indy car will be on-site, along with several Indy driving simulators.

NextCruise will be open to the public, starting at 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., on Friday, August 15, and then all day during the Woodward Dream Cruise, on Saturday, August 16. There's no charge, though licensed motorists will have to sign up for a ride in one of the green machines.

(Full disclosure: I serve as chairman of the volunteer NextCruise Committee. The project is not in any way supported by or connected to TheCarConnection.com.)

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