Green Guide to the Detroit Auto Show

Many shades of green can be found at the 2008 North American International Auto Show, more commonly known as the Detroit Auto Show. From GM’s oxymoronic “green” Hummer to Toyota’s eco plug-in hybrid to small startups helping to build the backbone of clean vehicle tech, everyone’s trying to go greener, or at least look like they are. But even the most hard-nosed cynic would have to agree that it’s exciting to see automakers, domestic and foreign, making energy diversity a production priority.

Already the show is serving as a platform for a notably diverse suite of solutions to our oil-based problems. Biofuels got a boost from GM and Khosla Ventures. Diesels, hybrids, electric vehicles and high efficiency, have been everywhere, while 2010 is looking like it’ll be a big year for plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) with Toyota, GM, and Chinese newcomer BYD planning multiple rollouts.

Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe outlined the company’s “Sustainable Mobility” plan in his address. Beyond simply improving vehicles’ efficiency, Toyota also wants to see better urban planning, cooperation among the energy and transportation industries as well as government and academia, and an assessment of sustainable utility-level power.

GM CEO Rick Wagoner gave a speech in which he touched on a wide range of alternative fuel ideas, from fuel cells to flex fuels. Still, Wagoner acknowledged that change won’t happen overnight: “[T]he hard truth is that under the most optimistic scenarios, it’ll be some time…a decade or more…before these new technologies will have a measurable impact on overall oil demand.”

Here are the announcement highlights so far:

toyota plug inToyota: Plug-In Hybrid By 2010: The uncontested king of hybrids, Toyota, said it will be switching to lithium-ion batteries from the nickel-metal hydride cells for their forthcoming plug-in hybrid. This can be seen as a direct move against Chevy’s Volt, which is also slated for a 2010 release, and ups the ante of Toyota’s all-hybrid promise.

HummerGM: A “Green” Hummer: We must live in a relative world to be able to utter the words “Green Hummer.” But that’s how GM is pushing the H-X, a scaled-down Hummer that gets mid-20s mileage and can burn E85. Not exactly the greenest belle of the ball, the H-X does look like it’d be the best option for hunting with Master Chief in semi-sustainable style. GM announced a second E85-optimized vehicle in its Saab 9-4X BioPower Concept, which sports a 2.0-liter, all-aluminum, four-cylinder BioPower flexfuel engine.

rechargeVolvo: Diesel ReCharge Plug-in Hybrid: Volvo’s design involves four separate, in-wheel motors powered by batteries with a 60-mile range. When the batteries are drained a four-cylinder diesel engine powers a generator to kick juice out to the motors.

xhAFS Trinity: Plug-in Extreme Hybrid: AFS Trinity has souped up a Saturn Vue Greenline with their Extreme Hybrid (XH) drivetrain, which uses a combination of ultracapacitors and batteries. In testing, the vehicle has gotten an all-electric range of 40 miles and a top speed of 87 mph with an estimated fuel economy of 150 mpg.

Chrysler: Two-Mode Hybrid: Jointly developed by The Hybrid Development Center (General Motors, Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz and The BMW Group), the two-mode hybrid powertrain will be incorporated in the 2010 Dodge Ram 1500. The two-mode system allows for the HEMI engine to operate at 4 cylinders more often, as opposed to all 8 cylinders, improving fuel economy.

LRXLand Rover: 120 g/km CO Turbodiesel Hybrid: The king of SUVs is making sure there’s a place for the notoriously inefficient vehicles in the future with its LRX diesel hybrid concept. Land Rover has made emission reductions, not fuel economy, the driving goal with the LRX.

BYDBYD: Chinese Newcomer Wants to Bring PHEVs to U.S.: The plug-in hybrid, the BYD F6 DM, is almost ready for sale in China but will have to go through America’s stringent emissions and safety tests before coming across the Pacific. Founded in 2003, BYD is looking to break into the U.S. market with its PHEV and follow up with an all-electric vehicle as well as traditional gasoline models.