NEW YORK CITY — I'm sitting here exhausted, spent, barely mobile. It's the end of an intensive four days of auto coverage. Normally, the press block at the New York International Auto Show is two days, but the industry is on such a high — with recovering sales and a big forecast for 2013 — that everyone is sponsoring multiple events. Toyota says 15.3 million U.S. sales in 2013, a big jump from the dark days of 2008.
Here are some colorful highlights of the show, for me. I spent the early morning Thursday driving the Ford Fusion Energi, the plug-in hybrid variant that has much overlap with the C-Max version. I'm a big fan of plug-in hybrids, and this one is a worthy challenger to the Volt, though with nowhere near the electric range — 21 miles instead of the Volt's 40 or so. The tradeoff, Ford says, is that you get a real five-seater, instead of the Volt's four. Pricewise they're about the same.
I saw the introduction of the first-ever Subaru hybrid, which doesn't really improve fuel economy all that much, but it gives you hybrid bragging rights — with all-wheel drive. BMW showed the Active Tourer with a plug-in hybrid architecture, but it was more of a design exercise than an actual driver. It showcased the three-cylinder engine that BMW developed, initially for the i8 plug-in hybrid but soon in stand-alone form for 40-mpg plus cars.
I spent some time in the new 2013 Leaf, which is now built in Tennessee (along with its battery pack). Nissan made some big improvements in the car, as well as lowering the introductory price to $28,800. You get warm via an efficient heat pump now, because the old heater was a big power drain. Even the new Bose stereo is 50 percent more energy efficient.
Nissan also showed a Pathfinder hybrid, but there's only so much you can do with a seven-seat crossover SUV. Still, 26 mpg combined isn't too bad for hauling the entire Boy Scout troop. The company is supplying New York with the NV200 taxi of tomorrow, and Nissan's Andy Palmer promised to deliver them with hybrid and electric drivetrains (that's a work in progress).
Mercedes and Tesla Motors will collaborate on a new electric version of the B-Class, and bring it to the U.S. next year. The car is said to have 115-mile range, four-hour recharge times (on 240 volts) and 135 horsepower — good for hitting a speed-limited 100 mph. You can reach 60 mph in less than 10 seconds.
The basic takeaway was that it's no longer news when automakers show off electric and hybrid cars. Nearly every vehicle has a green variant, some more than one. I heard that Nissan sold nearly 1,900 Leafs in March, a record for the company. Things are looking up, both for the industry and its cleaner, greener outlook.