DETROIT—Preview stories on the North American International Auto Show here in the Motor City focused on what was expected to be not only a pervasive austerity but also an interest in all things green. Having been here for the better part of a day during he press-only opening day, I can confirm the green part, but you can still get copious amounts of free food and drink (including strong coffee from the Europeans), and the rock music is still poundlingly obnoxious and the spokesmodels (both genders) beautiful.
Auto shows are big, loud and crowded, and reports that this one would be gloomy and downbeat seem exaggerated. Sure, Nissan was missing, but most other automakers were out in force. Despite the recession, Lamborghini spared no expense on its fashion show. Cobo Hall was electrifying, meaning that plug-in cars were everywhere. I talked to Toyota, Fisker, Ford, Chrysler and Mercedes today, and all of them are going electric, and not just with concept cars. There are genuine production commitments in the 2010 to 2013 time frame.
Mercedes, for example, is showing off a full range of electric, hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles based on its B-Class models. The handsome electric car is the BlueZero, with 124 miles of battery-only range. On the same platform is the E-Cell Plus, a range-extended EV with a small three-cylinder Smart-sized gasoline engine used as a generator, with 327 miles.
The F-Cell version of the B-Class is interesting, because it runs on hydrogen gas compressed to 10,000 pounds per square inch (General Motors fuel-cell cars do this, too) and gets almost 250 miles of range. The fuel cell and hydrogen tanks go underneath the vehicle, which means that passenger space is not compromised.
All three of the B-Class cars have lithium-ion battery packs of varying sizes, and all three can reach 62 mph in about 11 seconds.
These cars may not reach the market, but Peter Lehmann, a Daimler senior manager for vehicle concepts, points out that Mercedes is already testing electric Smart cars on the road in England, and will have an electric version of its smaller A-Class for sale in 2010. He declined to say how many would be for sale, and in what world markets they might appear. I'd have thought they'd have had an A-Class on display in Detroit, but alas, no.