Plug-in Concept Vehicles Are the Rage at 2012 Detroit Auto Show
Fun and fanciful concept vehicles are the mainstay of major auto shows. At this year's Detroit show, cars with plugs were in fashion. The media days wrapped up yesterday. This is a trend which began at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, when no fewer than 42 plug-in hybrids and electric cars were displayed. Showing a concept car, of course, doesn't mean it's headed for production, but can be read as a general trend. (It also should be noted that plug-in hybrids seemed to outnumber pure electric cars in Detroit.)
There were a couple of plug-in cars absolutely headed to a friendly neighborhood car dealership near you—most notably the Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid and some kind of small electric commercial van from Nissan. Determining which of the others will be available for sale—not just available as a lease in a limited production run—is a guessing game. Which of the following vehicles do you believe could, or should, be produced?
Japanese automaker Toyota debuted its NS4, an "advanced plug-in hybrid concept vehicle," at the Detroit Auto Show. The NS4 features a plug-in hybrid drivetrain similar to the system found in the $32,000 2012 Prius Plug-in Hybrid. The Prius Plug-In uses a 98-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine, an 80-horsepower electric motor, a continuously variable transmission and a 4.4-kWh lithium-ion battery. But this concept, a midsize sedan, is just as likely to merely be a design exercise primarily intended to help shape the direction of Toyota's future midsize vehicles, rather than anything substantive regarding the expanding Prius brand or the company's future electrified cars. For good measure, the NS4 Concept also tests out a slew of technologies, including a smartphone-like interface to monitor and control the vehicle's various systems, pre-collision and blind-spot monitoring systems and adaptive headlights. There's no production date attached to the NS4.
Honda confirmed that its very capable mid-size sedan plug-in hybrid—like the one I drove in Japan in December—will indeed use the Accord nameplate. The 2013 Accord Plug-In Hybrid will be equipped with a 6-kWh lithium-ion battery and a 120-kW electric motor. Honda predicts that the plug-in Accord's electric-only range will exceed 12 miles, provided that speeds stay below 62 miles per hour. According to Honda, the 2013 Accord Plug-in Hybrid will launch "next winter." No other details yet about production numbers, price or whether Honda will wimp out by only offering this vehicle for lease, like it has with its Fit EV.
Measuring in at 12 feet, the all-electric Smart For-Us urban pickup truck is not quite as diminutive as the Smart ForTwo. With a bed that's three-feet long, the For-Us can haul a bit of cargo. Smart pushes the limits of credibility when it says the electric For-Us is "turning the automotive world upside down" by "challenging ideas about what an urban pickup should look like." The For-Us is powered solely by electricity. The concept truck features a 55-kW electric motor that puts out 96 pound-feet of torque. Top speed is listed at 75 miles per hour and range is estimated at 87 miles. The 17.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that powers the For-Us is identical to the unit found in the third-generation, 2012 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive.
Volvo used the 2012 Detroit Auto Show to debut its XC60 Plug-in Hybrid Concept, a version of the automaker's crossover fitted with an advanced gas-electric powertrain. John Maloney, president and CEO of Volvo Cars of North America, told Plugincars.com that the vehicle is “likely to be the pinnacle expression of how we come to market with electrification strategy.” But he wouldn't say when it's heading to the United States.
The XC60 plug-in combines a 280-horsepower four-cylinder gasoline engine with a 70-hp, 148 pound-feet of torque electric motor. The turbocharged 2.0-liter gasoline engine powers the XC60's front wheel, while the electric motor spins the rear wheels. Electricity is stored in a 12-kWh lithium-ion battery pack located beneath the vehicle's rear cargo area. Volvo says that the XC60 plug-in can travel on electric power only for up to 35 miles.
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