In September, Audi of America president Johan de Nysschen called the Chevy Volt a "car for idiots" and said that electric vehicles were "for the intellectual elite who want to show what enlightened souls they are." Audi must have felt the need to atone for the harsh words, because the following month the German carmaker announced that it would build the baddest electric car yet: the E-tron, an all-electric supercar that could go on sale in the U.S. in two to three years.
The first morning of this year's Los Angeles auto show, the CEO of General Motors, Fritz Henderson, was scheduled to give the keynote address. The night before, he got fired. (Excuse me: He "resigned"). That, however, was the only real drama at this year's show, and for the sake of the auto industry, that's a good thing.
Even as hype and excitement has built around what seems like a 21st century green-car revolution, pure electric cars—as in, totally zero-emission vehicles with no gas engine, no tailpipe—have been very, very far from going mainstream. And the impressive but small-batch class of current contenders won't change that.
Keep this in mind when you consider what Nissan unveiled Sunday morning at the opening ceremony for its new headquarters in Yokohama, Japan. The Leaf--a cute, slightly odd hatchback--looks poised to become the first truly mass-market electric car.
Suddenly electric-car prototypes are everywhere. We’re not talking about the dubious concept cars that have long been a staple of the big international auto shows. These are actual, drivable electric vehicles (EVs) built by major automakers and assigned honest-to-God production dates as early as late next year. Their arrival suggests that this latest, much-hyped electric-car revival might just happen after all. Here’s a look at what’s coming.
This shiny little black car is the first real Chevy Volt—the first of many hand-built but bona-fide production-intent prototypes that will roll out of GM’s pre-production workshop in the coming weeks. This car is the next big step in the production process after the testing of the Volt “mules”—test cars with a Chevy Cruze body and a Volt powertrain. (We drove one of the mules last month; see our full review here.)
Today Mitsubishi unveiled the production version of the iMiEV, the company's pure-electric car, and announced that it will come to market pretty much right away—next month, in Japan. (No North American launch date has been announced.) Mitsubishi is calling the four-seat minicar the "ultimate eco-car," the first step toward making EVs 20 percent of its business by 2020.
Reporting on a test drive of a new car is generally pretty simple. How does the car look? How does it feel? Does it hang with its competitive set? How many parking-garage attendants told you it was awesome?
Assessing a pre-prototype version of the Chevy Volt is, um, different. To start, it's not a production car. Then there's the context. The Volt lies at the intersection of some of the most contentious issues of the day—electric cars vs. next-generation gas or diesel engines, CAFE standards, greenhouse-gas restrictions, the federal bailout of the American auto industry. Some people still refuse to believe that the Volt is actually a production-intent project. But after driving the car earlier this week, I can testify that the Volt is definitely real.
This year's New York International Auto Show was quiet, a confab for a shrinking industry. Sales have been tanking steadily for nearly every manufacturer. The corners of the showroom floor occupied by potentially doomed brands, like Hummer, felt a little like mausoleums. Still, plenty of automakers fought through the pain and unveiled interesting cars, which you can check out here.
The Black Hawk helicopter has served the U.S. Army well. But it's been around since 1979. Time for a revamp, with advanced electronics, more-powerful engines, and various other tweaks. The UH-60M Upgrade, as it's officially known, made its first flight last summer, and the Connecticut aircraft-manufacturer Sikorsky will start delivering them to the Army next year and ramp up to full production by 2013.