If one word could define this year's New York International Auto Show, officially running from April 2 to 11, it's "green." Every vehicle rolled under carefully arranged stage lights in Manhattan's Jacob K. Javits Center in preparation for the show seemed to be either hybrid, fuel-efficient or paired with marketing copy written to make it look fuel efficient. Cockpit technology also seemed more prevalent than ever, with a number of upcoming models offering dashboard screens for navigation and entertainment, paired with features such as Bluetooth systems.
That green IT outlook could be seen in cars targeted at a variety of markets, from budget to luxury. There was the 2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid, Porsche's first hybrid vehicle, which marries a 3.0-liter V6 supercharged engine with a 288-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery. Also seen on the show floor was the Lexus CT 200h, which includes a 1.8-liter engine paired with a nickel-metal-hydride battery. The CT 200h is due to arrive at an as-yet-unannounced point in 2011.
More middle-of-the-road, in the environmentally conscious category, were vehicles like the Nissan Leaf, touted as a zero-emissions car fully powered by electricity. In order to power the Leaf, which starts at a base price of $32,780, drivers will need to purchase a 240V/20-40amp dedicated circuit hard-wired to a charging dock, which will retail for $2,200 including installation. Taking the planet-friendly ethos one step further, Nissan said the Leaf uses recycled materials for many of its interior fabrics.
Other all-electric cars on display included Mitsubishi's prototype i-Miev, which the company said can travel for 80 miles on a single charge "under ideal driving conditions." The show model on display was small and gleaming white, making it resemble an oversized iPod on wheels; and like an iPod, the i-Miev can apparently accept a "quick charge" to 80 percent capacity within 25 minutes. Fully charging its lithium ion battery apparently takes 12 hours.
During a March 31 presentation, Ford CEO Alan Mulally said his company was attempting to "electrify our platforms" with five new hybrid vehicles due on the market by 2012. That was before he unveiled the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, which uses the Microsoft-designed SmartGauge with EcoGuide to give drivers long-term data on their fuel efficiency.
Ford's partnership with Microsoft goes deeper. The companies announced an initiative for 2011 that will see Microsoft's Hohm, a cloud-based energy management tool, used by drivers of Ford electric cars to find out how to most efficiently charge their vehicles.
During Mulally's March 31 presentation, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer appeared via video screen to tout the benefits of Hohm, which he said allows consumers to save "an average of 10 percent" on their utility bills. Ballmer added that utility companies could use data from Hohm to better manage their power grids in response to increased demand from electric cars.
But not all car models at the show embraced electricity. The 2011 Ford Fiesta, with a 1.6-liter DOHC I-4 engine, and the 2010 Chevy Cruze are both said to achieve 40 miles per gallon on the highway, thanks to purely fuel-efficient engines. By the end of 2011, Chevy will offer two models of Cruze, the Eco and the RS.
Other cars translated small size into greater efficiency, including the Smart Fortwo Passion Cabriolet, which earns 41 miles per gallon on the highway with its 1.0-liter, 3-cylinder engine and exceedingly small frame. In that same mode, the new Mini Countryman-although the largest Mini model-nonetheless turns its 161-inch length and 102-inch wheelbase to advantage in both fuel economy and maneuverability. In a tech-savvy nod, the Mini Countryman's interior features a Central Rail with electrical and USB connections, for interfacing and charging devices like smartphones.
But cars with an eco-friendly bent may be, for some show attendees, the gas-powered equivalent of eating spinach: something that seems like a good idea, but not necessarily as fun as other options out there. To that end, of course, the show provided a fair amount of eye candy in the form of high-end vehicles such as the Aston Martin 2010 DBS Carob Black Special Edition, powered by a hand-built V12 engine.
For those gearheads who prefer Steve McQueen to James Bond, the Ford area included the 3.7-liter Mustang V6 engine for the 2011 Ford Mustang, a vehicle that the company is pitching as the best of both worlds: fun to drive, and at least relatively fuel-efficient at 30 miles per gallon on the highway.