DETROIT -- This is the austerity auto show, but that’s relative. There’s not as much glitz as in previous years, but that didn’t stop Mercedes-Benz from having Janelle Monae sing “Here Comes the Sun” to introduce the E-Series Cabriolet, or Audi from serving a mean breakfast buffet. They just didn’t do as much with dry ice and casts of thousands.
There were plenty of new car introductions, and many of them were green. Audi introduced the second of its electric e-tron cars -- this one a small, high performance coupe with some family resemblance to the TT Coupe -- though the company preferred to think of it as a mini-R8. It’s not currently scheduled for production, but it easily could be. The show car was nicely finished, and looked good from every angle.
The first e-tron was a true supercar -- with no less than four electric motors, two in each axle. But the Detroit version is scaled down, with two motors. But it’s very light (considering the 900 pounds of batteries), has 204 horsepower and can do 0 to 62 in 5.9 seconds. It could go faster, but the e-tron is speed limited to 124 mph, and has 155 miles of range.
Two other sexy newcomers are from Honda and Toyota. The Honda CR-Z has already been debuted in Europe and Japan, where it is a four seater. But in part because we North Americans are so much bigger, our car seats two with a parcel shelf thing in the back. The car, on sale in the U.S. late in the summer, uses a 1.5-liter Integrated Motor Assist drivetrain (as seen in the Civic Hybrid and Insight) to achieve 36 mpg in the city and 38 on the highway. That’s not quite as good as the Insight (which will also likely beat it in price), but the 122-horsepower CR-Z is much sexier and better appointed than that somewhat bland offering. It’s ultra-clean on emissions, with the same status as the Prius.
The Toyota FT-CH is a sort of a mini-Prius, a compact hybrid that could be a neat fit for people who can’t afford the larger car. I’ve often wondered why Honda didn’t hybridize the Fit, a concept the company is still hemming and hawing about. Toyota, which is soon to be selling a million hybrids around the world each year, is likely to create a family of Priuses. The FT-CH even kind of looks like a Prius (and a bit like the Honda CR-Z, too). But this one has four seats, and is 22 inches shorter than the Prius.
And two other cars I’ll go into further depth on later are the Audi e-tron (the company’s second electric car prototype, smaller than the e-tron shown before) and the BMW Concept ActiveE, a battery vehicle that looks a whole lot like a 1 Series Coupe (because it is one).
Many of the green show cars in Detroit will actually go into production, which is a refreshing change. Usually they turn on a stand and then go into mothballs.