NEW YORK CITY — “This is the era of electrification. We’re pioneering a shifting paradigm. Cleaner, greener vehicles serve people on the move.” The speaker is Andy Palmer, a vice president of Nissan Motor Company, and he’s on stage at the New York International Auto Show introducing yet another hybrid car in a hybrid-rich environment. These days, if you don’t have a hybrid (in this case, a Pathfinder) and an electric in the pipeline, you’re out of the loop.
On the show floor, I was a person on the move, like Henry David Thoreau in search of green spaces in which to contemplate the universe. There was big news from Mercedes, which will bring an electric version of the B-Class to the U.S. next year, with a much-anticipated Tesla Motors drivetrain. (Daimler owns nearly 5 percent of Tesla, in case you’d forgotten. Toyota has a share, too.)
The car is expected to have a 115-mile range, and a four-hour recharge time. The small hatchback is not going to look familiar — the B-Class has never been sold in the U.S. There is 135 horsepower on tap, which is good for a speed-limited 100 mph and a zero-to-60 time somewhat less than 10 seconds.
Nissan announced that it sold nearly 1,900 Leafs in March, which is good news for the electric community. I drove one of the early Tennessee-built cars in New York on Tuesday, and was amazed by the array of improvements for a new knockout introductory price of $28,800 (before the $7,500 income tax credit). There’s a new heat pump cabin warmer (since heater power drain has been a problem), an energy-efficient Bose stereo, improvements to the charging system and information displays, weight loss and aerodynamic gain. It adds up to slightly more range, and an EPA estimate of 75 instead of 73 miles.
BMW showed its urban-oriented Active Tourer hatchback (above), with a plug-in hybrid drivetrain (non-functional, I’m told), showcasing a new design architecture. “It’s small on the outside and big on the inside,” BMW designer Page Beermann told me. “As a concept, it hints at what’s to come from BMW.”
The sub-1-Series hatch features a similar drivetrain to the forthcoming i8, featuring BMW’s dynamic 1.5-liter three-cylinder gas engine, which is likely to be stand-alone in small BMWs for India and China. I drove a 3-Series with that engine in New Jersey and loved it — three-cylinder engines are tomorrow’s four. In the Active Tourer, the drivetrain produces an estimated 190 horsepower, good for zero to 60 times below eight seconds and a top speed of 124 mph.
VW showed off a cool new Golf, and that's it above. Ford’s James Farley, executive vice president of global marketing, was interesting at the press breakfast. He pointed out that just about every automaker is making exaggerated fuel economy claims these days. “I have three kids,” he said. “And they’re always winning awards. But if there are a 100 kids in the class, and 93 of them get prizes, it’s not that meaningful.” This was by way of introducing a contest for a new “personal” fuel economy app. Software designers can score $50,000. Go to http://ford.challengepost.com
to find out more.
I spent a pleasant evening with Nissan and the Gibson Guitars van (below). You can outfit these soon-to-be-electric vans to do just about anything, so why not a traveling luthier? The night featured live music from guitarist Jim Campilongo
Let me tell you, at auto shows you have to wade through a lot of irrelevant dross to get to nuggets like this. I sat through Toyota’s press conference and took a lot of notes about the new Highlander that I’m never going to use. The car will have 19-inch alloy wheels, and a convenient shelf where you can store your connected smart phone. There, I used something.