The Chicago Auto Show runs through the end of next weekend. I had a chance to attend today. The show seemed a bit scaled down this year, and I assume that this has to do with the weak economy. Though, most of the usual suspects of auto makers were exhibited. Two years ago, the buzz was around alternative energy vehicles that ran on hydrogen, ethanol, natural gas, as well as the hybrids. In this year's auto show, hybrids are still all the rage however the others have been mostly replaced by electric cars.
Most of these cars powered by electric engines are still in concept and so the current alternative energy options continue to focus on hybrids. The leader in hybrids continues to be Toyota and they rolled out their staple for hybrids the Prius. The new design makes the Prius look almost like a triangle in the front. This creates an aero dynamic style and contributes to a strong drag coefficient. This not only means that an automobile will go faster but it also contributes to great gas mileage. The photo on the left is the 2010 model.
The process for getting these cars approved to pass safety standards here in America, the folks at Mitsubishi tell me, are more stringent in America than in Japan. The car you are looking at has been available in Japan since 2005. One of the other problems for any all electric car is finding a place to plug it in. This car, like most electric plug ins, can plug into a regular outlet. If you live in a home, you can probably find an outlet in your garage. Yet, those living in an apartment have a much harder time.
In California, the electric company has taken to providing an electric fueling station for cars. This adds another source of income for the electric company and it allows for the automobile to reach a more mass market. The folks at Mitsubishi said that it costs an extra $1.60 on average to fill up the battery on this car. The battery runs for about 80 miles.
At the left is the hyped up GM Volt. The folks at GM said that this car should be on the market in the next year or year and a half. This also runs on a plug in battery.
There are two competing technologies in electric car batteries. The first is the one that charges up when the car is plugged in. The second, usually found in hybrids, is the one that charges up everytime the driver hits the brakes.
There are two competing types of batteries. The technology the Prius(up top) has is called Nickel-Metal Hydride. The technology in most of the other vehicles is called lithium ion. All things being equal lithium ion is the better battery. It is lighter and it lasts longer. However, the technology for Nickel-Metal has been far more researched and so that technology is more advanced.
The most interesting electric car is this one from Dodge. The folks at Dodge say that they have five models, including this one, in concept and only one that will be on market in the next year. That, they weren't sharing with me which of the five will be the one on the market.
This one is a sports car that run zero to sixty in less than five seconds, and it runs entirely on a lithium battery that plugs in.
Ethanol fell way out of favor at this year's auto show, though I was impressed with this Hummer that also runs on EA 85.
The strangest concept in alternative vehicles is this one from GM. It's called Gem Cars. This is a glorified golf cart. It runs for around $10,000. It can only be used on roads that have speed limits of 35 mph or less. That's because the vehicle on goes up to 25 mph. To say that this vehicle has a limited use is quite the understatement.
Finally, the most interesting concept in alternative vehicles comes from Saturn. This is a hybrid that runs on a lithium ion battery that plugs in. It also runs on bio diesel fuels. The reason this continues to be merely a concept car is that no one has figured out how to bring bio diesels to the market in any mass way.
It runs just a little under $50k and it includes a flat screen television.
It seats double digits and it has just about everything you could ask for. It only requires a regular license, though this model runs for a cool $280,000 and unfortunately the photos don't do this justice. It includes HD TV, satellite, and high speed internet.
That's the wrap up....