PHOTOS: 8 Green Cars to Watch at the Detroit Auto Show

When General Motors Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre asked his company, “Do we sell any cars through the auto show,” nobody had an answer, he told reporters recently. Yet once more, the world’s automakers are hauling their wares to Detroit and putting on a show at the North American International Auto Show.

The annual event, which kicks off on Monday with two days of press previews, will include an array of concepts for greener cars, including hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles — a sign of how even in a time when more and more car companies are questioning the value of these budget-busting auto shows, they’re still betting that demonstrating green innovation (with designs like the eight shown below) will be worth the price.

Electric Fiat 500 (concept). Chrysler, now run by Fiat SpA, is rumored to have plans to show an electric version of the Fiat 500 subcompact in Detroit — a potential competitor for BMW’s electric Mini-E, says Bloomberg, if the concept ever makes it to production (pictured: gasoline version of the Fiat 500). Sources tell Autoweek that Chrysler does not have “immediate plans” to sell the model in North America. Chrysler made clear in the 5-year plan it unveiled this winter that it won’t kick into high gear with electric cars for the consumer market until 2011 and beyond.

Toyota Dedicated Hybrid (concept). Toyota’s new concept for a subcompact hybrid, which is scheduled for an unveiling on Monday, is not based on the Yaris platform. Rather, it’s a “wholly new car,” the Wheels blog reports, with some lines that are similar to the Prius. The Detroit News cites inside sources who say the model will go into production in Japan in 2011 and hit the U.S. market in 2012.

Volvo C30 Electric (concept debuted at Frankfurt Motor Show). Volvo says this model can go up to 94 miles on an 8-hour charge from a household outlet, and it has a top speed of 81 MPH. The model, which Volvo plans to launch in a 50-vehicle test fleet for driving in real traffic conditions in 2011, reportedly uses a lithium-ion battery pack from Ener1 subsidiary EnerDel.

BYD e6 (2010 production). China’s BYD plans to show its electric e6 (pictured) in Detroit next week, as well as the plug-in hybrid F3DM it showed at this event last year. BYD, which claims the e6 can go 205 miles on a full charge and hit a top speed of 87 MPH, aims to launch the model in California this year. The company is scheduled to hold a press conference at the auto show on Tuesday morning.

Think City (production). Think’s compact electric City started rolling off the assembly lines last month at Finland’s Valmet Automotive. If funding from the Department of Energy comes through (a big if), Think aims to start building City vehicles for the U.S. market at a retooled facility in Elkhart, Indiana by 2011.

Nissan Electric LEAF (2010 production). Most notable about Nissan showing the LEAF in Detroit this year is that it’s going solo at the event. The model will be on display in the Electric Avenue section of the convention center, but for the second year in a row Nissan will not show models on the main floor. A spokesperson explained the move to USA Today this week: For an event that is “incredibly expensive,” Nissan executives aren’t convinced they’re actually getting much value out of it.

Hyundai Blue-Will Plug-in Hybrid (concept, North American debut). Hyundai claims its concept can go up to 40 miles on electric power. It has a 1.6-liter gas engine and a 100 kw electric engine. Some parts are made with bio-based or recycled plastics. A touch screen in the center stack gives drivers “continuous feedback on fuel consumption and driving efficiency.” Solar cells in the glass roof “provide a trickle charge that helps operate a cabin cooling fan, reducing interior temperatures while the car is parked in the sun.”

BMW Concept ActiveE (electric concept). BMW has envisioned the Concept ActiveE as a four-seat sedan with a lithium-ion battery, 100-mile range and a smartphone app to monitor battery charge and condition. It’s based on the BMW 1 Series Coupe.

Images courtesy of the automakers.


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