North American International Auto Show

This week, manufacturers converge in Detroit for the year's first major auto show. Detroit hosts one of two international auto shows in the States: it sets the climate for industry trends over the next twelve months.

At the 2008 show, Dodge rolled out the all-new Ram pickup truck by parading a herd of longhorns through the streets of the motor city. This year, the cattle are back in the corral. With a minimum of bells and whistles, automakers are getting down to business, specifically, strategies for staying afloat in troubled economic waters.

Affordable Honda Hybrid

Alternative fuel vehicles are the dominant theme throughout the 2009 show. On Sunday, Honda unveiled the 2010 Insight: a production hybrid that averages over forty miles-per-gallon in city and highway driving.

Power for the five-passenger Insight comes from a 1.3-liter gasoline engine and ten kilowatt electric motor, mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission. The Insight can operate on pure electric power at low speeds: its driving range is over four hundred miles.

A new feedback feature uses a speedometer display with changing background colors to coach drivers on fuel-efficient driving techniques.

Pricing for the base model is below the Civic Hybrid. The Honda Insight rolls into dealerships this April.

Plug-In Prius Features Lithium Battery

The all-new Toyota Prius that debuts this week runs on two platforms: an evolved gasoline-electric hybrid with a nickel-metal hydride battery, and a plug-in model with a new lithium-ion battery.

Toyota is producing five hundred plug-in Prius hybrids this year, for global leasing. Engineers will use feedback from lease-fleet customers to get a feel for how well the plug-in meets the needs of real-world drivers.

Toyota's FT-EV concept is an all-electric urban commuter car based on the IQ model sold in Japan. The automaker plans to roll out a production version of the FT-EV in 2012.

"Last summer's four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline was no anomaly said Toyota Motor Sales group vice president, Irv Miller. "We must address the inevitability of peak oil by developing vehicles powered by alternatives to liquid-oil fuel."

The Prius of Lexuses

The Lexus 2010 HS 250h is the most fuel-efficient Lexus ever produced. The luxury automaker's first dedicated hybrid is an entry-luxury model that's similar in size to the ES sedan. In keeping with its environmentally-friendly mission, the automaker is using carbon-neutral plastic materials throughout the interior.

Power comes from a four-cylinder engine and electric motor. Lexus expects the HS 250h to achieve thirty-percent better fuel efficiency than any other model in its line-up.

The new sedan features segment-leading safety, including ten airbags, an available lane-assist system, pre-collision, and dynamic laser cruise control.

The 2010 LS 250h rolls into dealerships this summer.

Concept BlueZERO combines three alternative fuel technologies in a single platform

A unique sandwich architecture in the Mercedes-Benz Concept BlueZERO enables the automaker to produce three separate powertrains for a single vehicle. The modular BlueZERO allows customers to choose between battery-electric drive, fuel cell power, or an electric/gasoline hybrid.

The concept car architecture is similar to the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and B-Class. Despite its compact proportions, the BlueZERO has seating for up to five passengers.

Powertrain components are located in the floor, saving space, and giving the car a low center of gravity for better performance.

The automaker plans to begin small-scale production of battery-electric drive cars in 2010.

Smart fortwo Gets Wired

The smart fortwo micro-car gets an all-electric drive model this year. Europe is the first market for the electric smart: the automaker is exploring the viability of bringing its new plug-in to the States. Power comes from an electric motor and lithium-ion battery.

Mini Electrics

Mini is rolling out its first test fleet of all-electric cars this month, to five-hundred customers in California, New York and New Jersey.

The two-seat Mini recharges using a standard home outlet: recharging using 220-volt power takes about two and a half hours.

The 204-horsepower electric motor has a range of up to 150 miles, thanks to a rechargeable lithium-ion battery.

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