2008 Detroit Auto Show Greener Than Ever

Carmakers from around the world will converge on Detroit this week for the annual North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) to exhibit their newest products. On display will be everything from production vehicles that can be purchased today to concepts that won’t be on the showroom floor for years to come. Most of this year’s exhibitors have at least one thing in common, they will be debuting and displaying the newest developments in clean, green vehicles.

“Already the trends are showing that there will be a great emphasis this year on fuel-efficient vehicles, as well alternative technologies in powertrain. We also are expecting greater trends toward lighter vehicles that emphasize the role of design in maximizing space,” said Joe Serra, NAIAS 2008 co-chairman.

Manufacturers bringing their newest clean products to this year’s show include Dodge, Chevrolet, Toyota, Cadillac, Chrysler, Honda, Saturn, Jeep and Mazda. And, according to Michelle Krebs, editor of AutoObserver.com, this year’s show boasts the largest number of new green vehicles she has seen at one show.

“I would say that this year’s Detroit Auto Show has more green than any auto show I’ve ever seen and every shade of it,” Krebs said. “The tide has turned and there’s no turning back. This is a reality of life now.”

The technologies that individual companies will be showing run the gamut. Dodge will be showing its ZEO Concept, a four-passenger 2+2 sport wagon with an electric-only propulsion system and a lithium-ion battery pack providing a predicted range of 250 miles. Toyota will exhibit its A-Bat Hybrid Truck Concept. Cadillac will show its new Hybrid Escalade with GM’s new dual-mode hybrid system, promising a 50-percent increase in fuel economy. Chrysler will debut its ecoVoyager, an electric vehicle powered by an advanced lithium-ion battery pack along with a small advanced hydrogen fuel cell and its new Aspen Hybrid.

Honda is bringing its new CR-Z Gas/Electric Hybrid to the show which features the same engine as the company’s hybrid civic. Saturn will show the new Vue Green Line 2-mode Hybrid and the Vue Flextreme, a plug in hybrid. Mazda will be showing a new Hydrogen Hybrid. Jeep is showing its new Renegade Concept, a gas/electric hybrid. Ford will premier its new EcoBoost new engine which promises 20% better fuel economy. And Chevrolet will unveil the company’s new Volt model, a zero-carbon emitting electric compact car with a range of about 30 miles.

In addition to all of the new vehicles at the show, General Motors has also announced an agreement with Coskata, Inc. to commercialize its process for turning biomass into ethanol.

“We will have our first commercial-scale plant making 50 to 100 million gallons of ethanol running in 2011, and that includes the two years it will take to build the plant,” said Bill Roe, president and CEO of Coskata. 

The automakers exhibits aren’t the only part of this year’s show that will focus on green technology. Inforum, a group for professional women based in Detroit, will use its annual auto show breakfast to focus on how its members and their businesses can use what the automakers are doing to green their lives and their businesses, as well as to show them that being green when it comes to cars doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing comfort or style.

“We started focusing on green technology and sustainability last year and we thought that this year it would become the focus of the this year’s show,” said Terry Barclay, president and CEO of Inforum. “We want to open people up to how to be green and what is green.”

The new products at the 2008 show will eventually help reduce America’s independence on foreign oil. But according to Krebs, these products are not directly tied to the recent energy bill. They are the result of consumer demand and the closing time frames of government standards worldwide.

“Certainly these things were in production or in the works before the energy bill was passed, it takes years to develop an engine. I think it’s a trend that has been coming. We started seeing it a few years ago. I would say that it has accelerated and is has become clear that it is absolutely has to happen because of stricter fuel economy standards here and stricter emissions standards in Europe.”

Despite the large number of new green technologies at the show it is not clear if these investments will pay off for the companies in the long run.

“The investments are so high and I don’t think anyone realizes that. There was a Congressman who said this is not rocket science, this is auto mechanics, no this is rocket science. You’re dealing with space age materials and electronics,” Krebs said

According to Barclay these investments have an impact on more than just a company’s bottom line.

“We’ve been doing this breakfast for six years and there absolutely is a shift, this [green cars] is the hot topic right now. There is the feeling that companies can just flip a switch to produce these things. Everyone is impatient and wants the switch to be flipped, but that impacts a lot of jobs and a lot of lives,” Barclay said.

High investments aside, the wide range of products at this year’s show display many approaches to solving the world’s dependence on oil. Krebs says this is representative of the industry’s mantra toward energy independence.

“The industry wants to move away from depending on foreign oil. And what’s always been said in the industry and what’s always been clear to me is that there is no silver bullet,” Krebs said. “So a lot of different approaches have to be taken to solve the problem.”

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Former Editor at RenewableEnergyWorld.com, now Assistant Counsel at the New York State Department of Public Service, regulating New York's electricity, gas, and telecommunications industries.

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