As we’ve done for the past several years, EcoGeek went to this year’s North American International Auto Show (the Detroit Auto Show) to see what is new in clean and green transportation. However, this year’s displays continue to move away from a focus on environmental awareness as a major selling point. This has seemed to be the trend over the past few years. In retrospect, it seems that the peak of the green focus was probably the 2009 Detroit Show.
Green isn’t gone entirely. MPG is still a factor that is touted at some brands, but it seems to matter no more than other numbers like horsepower or cargo volume that manufacturers use to compete with one another. Electric drive continues to work its way into more and more cars (with mild hybridization becoming more common). But cars are not green-focused the way they were a few years ago. The fact that Ford has five different hybrid and electric drive vehicles would have been a big story just a couple years ago, but now it is just part of a major automaker having a complete line.
Where once they seemed like an outsider, Tesla seems to have developed into a mainstream member of the club. For this year’s display, Tesla had two of their Model S coupes and display panels about interior finish choices; the Roadster was not in sight. The only non-traditional manufacturer on the display floor this year was VIA trucks, which had vehicles in three different places. Michelin (who has always been a major sponsor of the Detroit Show) and a couple other parts suppliers also had space on the main floor, but not to the extent as during the depths of the economic decline.
The common theme across much of the show this year was the engine-on-a-stick. It’s not that it hasn’t been done before, but it seemed to be much more prevalent. Lots of “here’s what the engine looks like,” and usually nothing, or very little, in the way of explanatory text to accompany it. Overall, the show did seem to be moving back toward a more car-centric focus on the basic stuff that the core car-people really love. With that in mind, it’s not at all surprising that the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray was named Car of the Year.
The driving course on the lower level is gone this year, as well. When it was introduced a few years ago, there were literally dozens of different vehicles, primarily electrics and hybrids, that could be driven, to introduce the public to the experience of driving a vehicle with something other than a gasoline engine. Over the past few years, this became less and less of a feature, and is now completely omitted from the show.
Although green cars have largely become a sideline, rather than the focus of the Auto Show, the fact that they have become a part of most manufacturers’ lines should be taken as a sign of progress. There certainly were some interesting new vehicles at this year’s show, and we will take a more detailed look at some of these.