Detroit Motor Show Review 2009Posted on: 23 January 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves
America's troubled car companies are gambling on electricity to safeguard their future.
Ford, Chrysler and General Motors have been showing off new vehicle technology at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. All three manufacturers are keen to demonstrate their plans for mass-produced alternative fuel vehicles.
GM showed its prototype electric car, the Volt. The company also unveiled a futuristic-looking Cadillac concept vehicle called the Converj. Both cars run on battery power, but can be recharged on-the-move using a petrol-powered generator.
Such vehicles are known as 'Extended Range' automobiles. Chrysler has put a similar system into its Jeep Patriot. Also on display was Chrysler's all-electric sports car, the Circuit. However the company says it is still a prototype with no production date named.
Fans of emission-free racing may opt instead for Tesla Motors' £70,000 electric Roadster, due to ship this year.
Detroit's other major manufacturer, Ford, is also going electric.
The bulk of its efforts at this time are focused on hybrid vehicles, including the Fusion family saloon and the Escape SUV.
Hybrid cars switch between an electric motor and petrol power to increase fuel economy. US manufacturers have been forced to speed up the move to electric after rising fuel prices dented sales of trucks and fuel-hungry SUVs.
Speaking at the show, GM vice chairman Bob Lutz said the change to electricity made sense.
"I think electricity makes a lot of sense because it almost completely displaces gasoline.
"One of the things I like about driving Volt prototypes is the absolute dead silence driving the car."
The 'Big Three' have been criticised for being slow to develop electric car technology, compared to overseas rivals including Toyota and Honda. Both Japanese companies were at the show, exhibiting their own electric vehicles.
GM and Chrysler are eager to impress that they can now compete in the global market, having received multi-billion dollar loans from the US government. But while Detroit races to embrace greener motoring, the sheer range of new technologies may itself become a problem.
The differences between Electric, Hybrid, Plug-in Hybrid, Extended Range and hydrogen fuel cells can be confusing. UK motoring journalist Mike Duff, who writes for Autocar magazine admitted this needs to be addressed.
"The real risk is consumers aren't going to know what's going on, the differences between the cars,” Duff says.
"To be honest, the manufacturers themselves don't know what's going to be the standard. It's confusing for everyone in the industry and outside it."
However Detroit-based car salesman Steve Lovalvo is optimistic, believing car-drivers will do their research before deciding to buy.
"I think they will be positive towards that technology. They are going go through and research that vehicle a lot before they come into a showroom.
"That technology will have sold itself long before they step into a showroom. It won’t be a problem.”
Are you confused by the different electric models? Would you buy an electric car?
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