Greetings from New York, where the New York International Auto Show is underway. I spent most of last week there, and am now finally decompressing after an endless round of press events, debuts and just plain showmanship. The original KISS united for a MINI charity event. The makeup really does hide age well.
The show opened on Earth Day, which is appropriate, because it’s very eco-minded. But the shade of green is changing, and in a good way. Today’s eco-cars aren’t show or niche vehicles, they’re the companies’ major product lines. They’re not headed for the market in some undefined tomorrow, but here today. I got to as much of it as I could, and here are some highlights:
The Malibu Returns. The Malibu, a venerable name at GM that goes back to the 60s, was Chevrolet’s phoenix car in 2008. Now the Malibu is back as a world car, and I’m amazed to discover that GM took my advice and rolled out an Eco edition (38 mpg on the highway) comparable to the intriguing Cruze Eco. The technology is interesting: a mild hybrid system that, one hopes, is better than the weak approach in the earlier Malibu hybrid.
Hail the Conquering Taurus. Like the Malibu, the Taurus was a sign of rebirth for Ford in the 1980s. And when the company abandoned it in favor of the generic 500, it was a sign that all was not well in Ford-Land. But the Taurus returned, and the new model on display in New York both looks good and gets green. There are two different versions with EcoBoost four-cylinder engines, achieving (in the better of the two) 31 highway mpg.
The Honda Family. The Civic has always been a willing performer, but it hasn’t had a starring role at Honda until now. In New York, the automaker rolled out no less than three green Civics, including a new version of the hybrid model that achieves 44 mpg on the highway…and in the city, too. There’s also an intriguing HF model (41 mpg on the highway) that achieves that stellar figure without hybrid drive.
There were, of course, a ton of glamorous concept cars. Saab exhibited a hybrid sports PhoeniX with four-wheel-drive--the rear wheels run electrically. VW re-introduced a somewhat more masculine Beetle, and brought in the gorgeous Bulli, an electric Microbus for our times. The Prius c is a concept in name only, because this smaller and even more fuel-efficient variant is going into production.
Notice that I didn’t say much about hybrids, and there’s a reason for that — there weren’t many of them. The clear trend at this show is toward green cars that go the extra mile with regular old internal-combustion engines. And that’s fine, because mpg is mpg — there’s no special green price for hybrid drive. However they get to 40 mpg, I’m fine with it.
Strict national fuel economy regulations, coupled with green car quotas from California, mean the automakers have a clear path ahead of them. And because of that, we’ll all breathe easier.
Green Wheels: Big Green Show
Carmakers field 40-mpg models in New York
The new Prius c: a concept car headed for the market. (Jim Motavalli photo)