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Electric cars provide the sizzle in Detroit

Fears of demand for fuels exceeding supply in the next 20 years drives auto innovation

There was electricity in the air and on the show floor at the Detroit Auto show.

The big boys and the new boys brought their latest green vehicles, some of the more fanciful examples will never see blacktop in big numbers but the established manufacturers are deadly serious about selling millions of their cars for the not-so distant future.

Toyota announced its intent to create a Prius family of vehicles as it broadens its enviro-friendly options with plug-in hybrids (PHVs) and battery electrics (BEVs) in model year 2012, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCHVs) in 2015 in global markets.

"Within the next 10 to 20 years, we will not only reach peak oil we will enter a period where demand for all liquid fuels will exceed supply," said Jim Lentz, Toyota Motor Sales president. "A century after the invention of the automobile, we must reinvent it with powertrains that significantly reduce or eliminate the use of conventional petroleum fuels. One of many alternatives is through what is commonly called the electrification of the automobile. By far, the single most successful example of this has been the gas-electric hybrid."

Within the next few years, Toyota hopes to sell a million hybrids per year globally, the majority of those in North America. To accomplish this, Toyota will launch eight all new hybrid models over the next few years. These will not include next generation versions of current hybrids; instead, they will be all new dedicated hybrid vehicles, or all new hybrid versions of existing gas engine models.

Toyota unveiled its FT-CH compact hybrid as a potential sibling for the mid-size class Prius, targeting a younger group with a price point in the low 20-thousands. The Lexus LFCH, which is Toyota's luxury alternative, is clearly aimed at the wealthier members of the same youthful demographic. The Toyota FT-EV is a pure electric vehicle, resembling a Smart Car. Check out the space age cockpit in the picture.

The 2011 Honda CR-Z Sport Hybrid Coupe is already ready to go and should be on sale later this year.

"It's the first hybrid designed to maximize style and fun, in addition to efficiency and economy." said John Mendel, executive vice-president of sales for American Honda.

It is powered by a 1.5-litre i-VTEC engine with Honda's compact and lightweight Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid-electric system. The two-passenger CR-Z introduces a new three-mode drive system that allows the driver to select between Sport, Econ (Economy) and Normal driving modes. Prices this summer.

Hyundai is a late comer to the green stakes race but it has unveiled an ambitious plan to supplant Toyota. The Korean company eschews the green label calling its strategy blue! It will start by bringing its first gasoline-electric full hybrid in the next-generation Sonata by October of this year. Meanwhile, super fuel-efficient blue editions of its Accent and Elantra models

will be priced lower than the competition. Hyundai is showing its very sporty, plug-in hybrid concept Blue-Will with solar panels on the roof. It will make it to production in some form and see these shores though no timeline has been drawn.

If the Honda CR-Z demonstrates that hybrids need not be ugly, the Audi e-Tron proves they can be positively breathtaking, scooping the best in show award in Detroit. The two-seater uses two electric motors capable of sending the coupe from zero to 100 km/h in just 5.9 seconds. The top speed is limited to 200 km/h as the amount of energy required by the electric motors increases disproportionately to speed. The car's range is approximately 250 kilometres before charge up is required.

Not to be outdone by its German cousins, the Volkswagen NCC -New Compact Coupe -is attracting admiring looks though it is a very different looking car. The hybrid hits 100 km/h in 8.6 seconds and offers an overall fuel consumption of just 4.2 L/100 km.

The Subaru Hybrid Tourer is a beautiful creation with huge gullwing doors that open the entire side of the car. Guess the downside is they also open it up to the full force of inclement weather. Three power sources drive it: there's a 2-litre engine and separate electric motors for the front and rear wheels.

Then there are the vehicles parked on what is dubbed Electric Avenue.

I had to laugh at the Revenge Design Verde Supercar, described as a guilt free supercar. A 400 horsepower engine combined with electric motor drives it from zero to 100 klicks in just 3.5 seconds with a top speed of 320 km/h. Sticker price $200,000.

BYD (Build Your Dream) Autos from China is showing an electric car that may not rival the looks of the Revenge but could a better green option for regular folks. The manufacturer boasts a range of 330 kms per charge.

Article found at: Vancouver Sun
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