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Hybrid Cars Charge Up Detroit Auto Show

A new trend emerged at this year’s 2004 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), more popularly known as the Detroit Auto Show, now underway in Detroit. Fuel efficient hybrid-electric engines, previously offered in only a few compact car production models, are now finding their way into the hugely popular Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) lineup.

Detroit Michigan – January 14, 2004 [SolarAccess.com] While these larger, heavier vehicles are inherently more inefficient that small compact cars, they do open up hybrid technology to a large consumer market looking for the fuel economy of hybrids, without giving up their preference for larger vehicles. Toyota Motor Sales unveiled the 2005 Toyota Highlander Hybrid SUV (sport utility vehicle) at the NAIAS, which is open to the public until January 19. Toyota’s first hybrid electric SUV will feature a 3.3-liter V6 engine coupled with a motor, offering a combined peak power of about 270 horsepower. The Highlander Hybrid will use a new version of the Hybrid Synergy Drive system that powers the Toyota Prius, with nearly double the battery power and more than twice the motor power. Although a front-wheel-drive version is standard, an optional four-wheel-drive package will use front and rear motors to deliver balanced power to all four wheels. According to Toyota, the Highlander Hybrid will achieve “the fuel economy of a four-cylinder compact sedan” and will be available in early 2005. Lexus, Toyota’s luxury division, introduced its own hybrid electric SUV on Tuesday. The RX 400h appears to feature the same drive train as the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, but in a luxury package. Both vehicles are expected to achieve SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle) emissions ratings. The 2005 RX 400h is expected to go on sale this fall. While Toyota and its luxury Lexus division are rolling out new hybrid models, the current Toyota Prius was named the 2004 North American Car of the Year at the NAIAS. But Toyota is not the lone hybrid vehicle exhibitor at the NAIAS: Mercedes-Benz is displaying a concept version of its Vision Grand Sports Tourer powered by a diesel-electric hybrid system. The system uses a V8 diesel engine and a 67-horsepower motor to achieve a total power of 314 horsepower. Other hybrid options unveiled at this year’s show include a version of Chrysler Group’s Dodge Ram pickup and General Motor’s Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks. Ford Motor’s Escape SUV will be sold as a hybrid in 2004, although the company said its launch was pushed back from the end of last year for more testing.