By Richard Russell
DETROIT, MI – Green was the unofficial theme at this year’s North American International Auto Show. Now that there are more than 20 hybrids on the market with plenty more unveiled here, pure electric power has become the hot button to come.
Like a lightning bolt from the black cloud currently hanging over the industry, hybrid-electric, plug-in electric and improbable electric vehicles appeared on stands or in news releases throughout the show. Whether by design or coincidence, virtually every major manufacturer touted efforts underway to put electric vehicles on the road starting next year.
You might not have heard of this company yet, but you will. BYD (Build Your Dreams) is a Chinese upstart that said here it plans to have a range of pure electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles on the North American market within two years.
They will include the F3DM claimed to be the world’s first mass-produced plug-in hybrid sedan and the battery-powered e6, a mid-sized, five-passenger crossover with a claimed range of more than 400 km on a single charge.
BYD is the world’s largest producer of rechargeable batteries supplying those used in cell phones by Nokia, Motorola, Samsung and others. It is now China’s largest independent produce of automobiles and plans to combine its battery and production expertise to expand around the globe.
Chrysler showed four different electric concept vehicles at the show including a sports car, SUV, minivan and four-door sedan. Chrysler says it will put one of them, the two-seat Dodge Circuit into production next year.
Based on a Lotus chassis the Circuit is said to be capable of a to speed of 200 km/hr and accelerating from rest to 100 km/hr in less than five seconds. To these eyes the best-looking electric vehicle, hands down, is the rear-drive Chrysler 200C EV.
This elegant blend of style and technology is a source of great pride for Ralph Gilles, Vice-President of design for Chrysler. He told me it was his favourite among the various Chrysler concepts on display here “so beautiful you would never know it is an electric car “ he said. Chrysler is calling its electric technology ENVI.
Ford Motor Company
Ford says it will have an all-electric four-door sedan on the market in 2011 that will be capable of going more than 150 km before requiring recharging.
It will be part of a multi-prong electric effort that begins with a new battery electric commercial van in 2010, the aforementioned small car in 2011 developed in conjunction with Canada’s Magna International, and next-generation hybrid vehicles, including a plug-ion version in 2012.
“Next-generation hybrids, plug-in hybrids and pure battery powered vehicles are the logical next steps in our pursuit of greater fuel economy and sustainability,” said Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s group vice president of Global Product Development.
The Chevy Volt has a target painted on it’s back. The topic of immense publicity and scheduled for production late in 2010, the Volt will go more than 65 km on a charge with a tiny auxiliary internal combustion engine to recharge the batteries while the car is on the move.
A further development of this “Voltec” powertrain is promised for other similar projects including the Cadillac Converj concept unveiled here. The unit envisioned for the Converj would be comprised of a 16-kWh T-shaped battery with 220 lithium-ion cells, an electric drive unit and a small four-cylinder engine-generator to recharge the batteries as needed.
With 273-lb. ft. of torque from idle, acceleration would be very strong and GM says top speed would be in the order of 160 km/hr. Like the Volt the actual propulsion would be from the electric motor at all times. GM says recharging from the grid will take about three hours at 220-volts and eight from a regular 120-volt outlet.
Toyota says it will launch an small urban electric vehicle -the FT-EV, by 2012. It will share a platform with the company’s tiny iQ four-seat A-Class car currently available in Japan.
The FT-EV will have a range of up to 80 kilometres. It will be joined by 10 new gasoline-electric hybrids in the next three years. Toyota has entered into a partnership with Panasonic to develop and produce the lithium-ion batteries.
With fuel prices currently at very low levels, interest in vehicles that use very little of the commodity may be low as well. But there are few people who believe fuel prices will stay this low. By the time these vehicles hit the road they may have a very receptive audience.