Green Machines in Detroit

PopSci heads to the 20th North American International Auto Show to bring you the mean, green machines about to flood our shores

Mazda Furai Front

Is this the Batmobile? No—it’s the Mazda Furai racecar, a 450 hp monster powered by a three-rotor rotary engine.

Green’s been in the air of late, and this year’s North American International Auto Show was no exception. While the usual hyped sports cars and solid trucks weren’t exactly in short supply, nearly every concept car toed the eco line. Fuel cells, biodiesel and batteries powered most. Ethanol was popular despite continual rumors of a looming corn shortage (probably less of a problem in the “conceptual” realm). Even Hummer promised a FlexFuel system for its HX concept. Of course, none of this means power will be sacrificed. Ferrari introduced green concepts too; and you’d better believe they’re not going to be slow.

View the photo gallery here.

Audi A4

The new Audi A4, which was first revealed last fall at the Frankfurt auto show, made its North American debut this week in Detroit. The new A4 isn’t a radical departure, to say the least. To my eye, it looks pretty much the same as the previous iteration, though slightly sleeker and sexier. Audi says the refreshed A4 delivers something that its predecessor lacked: Enough leg room in the back seat to keep adults from getting deep vein thrombosis on drives longer than two hours.

Audi R8 V12 Diesel

Euro carmakers know that we Americans still associate diesel with the asthma-inducing dump trucks that nearly run us off the road a few times a week. This is why Audi has drafted its hottest car, the R8, to be its official Ambassador of Diesel. This concept version of the R8, which runs on a V12 TDi turbocharged diesel engine, can run from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, top out over 185 mph—and still get 24 mpg. At least that’s what Audi says.

Audi TTs

For its 10th anniversary, the Audi TT continues to evolve into a true sports car. The TTs Coupe here can run from 0 to 60 in 5.4 seconds.

Lamborghini

Apparently someone at Lamborghini decided that in this New Green Era, chartreuse wasn’t the best color for Lambo’s image. Hence the blue (periwinkle? Robin’s egg?) Murcielago you see here.

BMW 128i Convertible

Sunday at the Detroit show BMW officially added topless versions of its new 1 series to its lineup. Here, the 128i convertible . . .

Cadillac Provoq

The hydrogen fuel-cell-powered Cadillac Provoq concept. GM chairman Bob Lutz said in a press conference that it could cover approximately 300 miles with the six kilograms of compressed hydrogen the Provoq could store on board. A lithium ion battery can pitch in power as needed.

BMW 135i Convertible

As well as the more powerful, more expensive 135i convertible.

Corvette ZR1

The recipient of more car-magazine hype than any other vehicle in recent memory: The 2009 Chevy Corvette ZR1.

Corvette ZR1 2

Chevy claims the ZR1, with its 620 hp, LS9 supercharged 6.2L V-8, has a better power-to-weight ratio than the Porsche 911 GT2, the Ferrari 599, and the Lamborghini LP640, and should have a top speed of at least 200 mph.

Dodge eco-Voyager Side

One of three far-out concepts shown by Dodge at the Detroit show, the eco-Voyager concept would be an electric car running on a lithium ion battery with a hydrogen “range extender” that gives it a total range of 300 miles.

Dodge eco-Voyager – Tail

Note the bizarre “boat-tail” . . .

Dodge eco-Voyager – Dash

And the vaguely Minority Report control panel.

Cattle Call

A herd of Texas Longhorn cattle lead the new Dodge Ram in a much-hyped press conference . . .

Dodge Ram

Seriously.

Dodge Ram – Inside

A better look at the Dodge Ram; a far-from-futuristic variation of Chrysler’s flagship pickup truck.

Dodge Renegade

Another Dodge concept, the Jeep Renegade, a two-seater that would run the first 40 miles on a lithium ion battery before a BLUETEC diesel engine kicks in to carry it as far as an additional 360 miles.

Dodge Renegade Dash

Bright and shiny.

Dodge Zeo

And the final bizarre Dodge concept, the all-electric Zeo, which stands for “Zero Emissions Operation.”

Dodge Zeo – Rear

Complete with gull-wing doors.

Ferrari F430 Scuderia

The Ferrari F430 Scuderia, looking damn sexy in blue. Note: This woman stood dutifully in this same position, wearing high heels, for what seemed like three days straight.

Ferrari BioFuel

No automaker is immune from the green act, not even Ferrari. What you see here is the ethanol powered Ferrari F430 Spider concept, and the ladies who get paid to fawn over it.

Fisker Karma

It’s not a stretched Aston Martin: It’s the Fisker Karma, a plug-in hybrid set to go on sale in late 2009.

Fisker Karma

The Karma, which is said to run 50 miles on its battery alone and run 0 to 60 in less than six seconds before topping out at 125 mph, was unveiled Monday in a press conference.

Fisker Karma

Fisker will make 15,000 Karmas initially and sell them for $80,000 each.

Fisker Interior

It’s eco-chic, but it’s not vegan—there’s a lot of leather in this car. That center console, which runs through both the front and back seats, houses the Karma’s lithium ion battery, which is made by Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies. The Karma is a joint venture between Fisker Coachbuild and Quantum.

Ford Verve

Ford’s biggest unveil in Detroit was the new F-150, but the most attractive, and impressive, was the subcompact concept car Verve. The Verve, which you see here, would be Ford’s bid for a subcompact, $20,000-or-less moneymaker. Don’t expect it to arrive in the U.S. before 2009 at the earliest.

Honda CRZ

A small, sleek gas-electric hybrid with quite a lofty name—”CRZ” stands for “Compact Renaissance Zero”—made its North American debut at a Honda press conference in Detroit.

Honda Pilot

Honda also unveiled the restyled 2009 Pilot prototype; its V6 will feature Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management system, which allows the engine to run in six-, four-, or three-cylinder modes depending on the driving situation.

Hummer HX concept

Plenty of Halo 3 jokes have already been made about this Hummer concept car, so I won’t add another. If it ever gets built, this Hummer would run on a 3.6L V-6 E85 FlexFuel engine.

Land Rover LRX Concept

Is this what Land Rovers of the future will look like? Who knows. But there’s no good reason the Land Rovers of the future couldn’t run on biodiesel capable turbo-diesel engines, like this one is envisioned doing.

Lexus LF-A

Lexus showed a roadster version of its LF-A concept sports car, but with no fanfare or press conference.

Lexus LF-A

The LF-A roadster, like the coupe, runs on nearly 5.0 liter V-10 that produces more than 500 hp.

Mazda Furai Front

Is this the Batmobile? No—it’s the Mazda Furai racecar, a 450 hp monster powered by a three-rotor rotary engine.

Mazda Furai

“Furai” means “Sound of the wind in Japanese.” Think of this car as the rotary-powered Mazda RX-8 on PCP.

Mazda RX-8

And speaking of the RX-8, here’s the refreshed 2009 version, which made its world premiere in Detroit. I would emphasize ‘refreshed’— to my eye, this car isn’t much different than its predecessor. Here’s hoping the difference for 2009 is in the ride; as fun as the current RX-8 is, it can sometimes feel like a go-kart on a cobblestone road.

Mazda Taiki

You’ve got to hand it to Mazda—they brought by far the oddest, boldest, downright trippiest concept cars to Detroit . . .

Mazda Taiki

This one is called the Taiki, and according to Mazda’s press kit it was “inspired by the image of a pair of Hagoromo—the flowing robes that enable a celestial maiden to fly in Japanese legend—floating down from the sky.” Which raises the question: What exactly are they putting in the water at Mazda design headquarters?

Mazda Taiki

Gull-wings on each side, of course.

Mazda Taiki – Rear View

Mercedes Vision GLK

Presenting the star of the upcoming Sex and the City movie, the Mercedes-Benz Vision GLK. The small SUV, which goes on sale in the U.S. in January 2009, will be powered by a four-cylinder diesel engine that’s cleaned up for all 50 states by BLUETEC technology.

Mercedes SLK

Everyone’s favorite Benz roadster, the SLK, gets an update. The next generation will be available with a new 3.5 liter V-6 that produces 305 horsepower and gets (slightly) better gas mileage than its predecessor.

Nissan Forum

This was a quiet show for Nissan, but the Forum Concept van drew plenty of attention nonetheless. I couldn’t get the reps on the showroom floor to tell me what, if any, features on this concept might make it to production, but parents will be pleased to know that this vehicle is designed for keeping children entertained and out of your hair on long trips . . .

Nissan Forum Dash

The second-row seats swivel around to face the third row; passengers in the back can listen to different music than the people sitting in front; and the steering wheel even comes with a “Time Out” button that shuts down the music in the back when the driver is about to lose his or her sanity. It even comes with standard rear-seat shock collars for children that can be triggered by a button on the steering wheel. Not really.

Saab 9-4x BioPower Concept

During the same conference in which GM announced its partnership with cellulosic ethanol producer Coskata, it unveiled a Saab concept SUV designed to run on ethanol—the 9-4x BioPower. A four-cylinder, 2.0-liter turbo engine optimized for E85 powers the 9-4x concept, which was inspired by Saab’s Aero-X concept.