By Marc Lachapelle
The quest for the ultimate clean and cheap powertrain technology has been raging for more than a decade and every auto show is a showcase for the latest and greatest developments. New York is no exception this year and, as usual, contenders and pretenders went in almost every imaginable direction.
There still is no picking a clear winner in a race where participants are simultaneously running in all directions, but some do stand out. This spring, in the Big Apple, the biggest player in the eco-battle is Mercedes-Benz, with the introduction of three different diesel-powered or hybrid vehicles. In terms of pure impact, though, the most spectacular and surprising is also the smallest in size: the tiny GM/Segway experimental urban two-wheeler runabout automatically fascinates and quickly grabbed headlines worldwide.
Presented as one of the possible solutions to growing traffic congestion, especially in the most densely-populated cities in Asia, Project P.U.M.A. (for Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility) combines several technologies that have been developed separately by Segway for its famous stand-up ‘scooter’ and GM in various projects. These include electric drive and batteries, gyroscopic stabilization, all-electronic control of acceleration, steering and braking plus vehicle-to-vehicle communications and ‘autonomous’ driving and parking. The current P.U.M.A. can run at up to 56 km/h for up to 56 kilometres. GM and Segway will be testing a second-generation prototype this summer.
The most advanced or forward-looking ‘green’ model on the Mercedes-Benz stand is the E 250 Vision Bluetec ‘concept’ is an E-Class sedan powered by a turbocharged, 2.2-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine with a pair of balancing shafts that produces 204 hp and a solid 369 lb-ft of torque at 1600 rpm. Mated to a 7-speed automatic gearbox, this engine would return a fuel economy average of 5.5 L/100km and meet not only Bin 5 but also the EU6 emissions standards set for 2014 in Europe.
German rival Volkswagen counters nicely with the stingy new, production-ready sixth-generation Golf TDI set to arrive next fall. Powered by a turbocharged, direct-injection, 2.0 liter engine that delivers 140 hp at 4000 rpm and a substantial 236 lb-ft of torque between 1750 and 2500 rpm, it is rated at only 4.5 L/100 km on the European cycle.
Now we want the Golf GTD that was recently unveiled at the AMI show in Leipzig. It combines a stronger 168-hp TDI engine and the chassis settings of the new GTI, for 0-100 km/h runs in 8.1 seconds and a 5.3 L/100 km rating. This is enough to join the BMW 335d sedan and its 3.0-litre, variable-twin-turbo diesel engine with 265 hp and 425 lb-ft of torque in the select ‘swift and thrifty’ segment.
The all-electric camp was led in New York by the confirmation that Mitsubishi will be selling the iMiEV to North America. The car will be equipped with a lithium-ion battery pack and have a range of about 130 kilometres. Other pure-electric notables in New York are the Cadillac Converj concept, the Fisker Karma and Sunset models and the Mini E.
On the production hybrid front, Mercedes-Benz also has the new parallel gas-electric ML 450 Hybrid and the upcoming S 400 BlueHybrid luxury sedan with the first lithium-ion battery pack in a mass-produced model.
All this said, the title of most fiery and powerful of the green brigade in New York goes jointly to the twin-turbo V12-powered, 610-hp Bentley Continental Supersports and the 1018-hp Koenigsegg CCXR supercars that can both run on E85 bio-ethanol fuel. It must said, though, that the CCXR consumes 22 litres per 100 km of the stuff, which does not look very good on its greenhouse-gas (CO2) balance sheet.