With gasoline prices hitting near inflation-adjusted all-time lows, performance and design once again came to the forefront at the January 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit – even for what once would be considered green vehicles. From the second-generation Acura NSX and Chevrolet Volt to the Volkswagen Cross Coupe GTE concept, performance was touted nearly as much, and in some cases more, than fuel efficiency.
Navigant Research’s report, Automotive Fuel Efficiency Technologies, projects that hybrid electric vehicles will continue to be a niche, accounting for significantly less than 10% of global light duty vehicle sales by 2025. Targeting the combination of improved performance while at the same time reducing energy consumption and emissions may be the best way to grow consumer acceptance.
Almost exactly 8 years after the debut of the original Chevrolet Volt concept in this same venue, the second-generation production model was revealed at this year’s show. The redesigned, extended-range electric vehicle (EV) boasts a 200-lb weight reduction, a higher-capacity battery, a more compact electric drive unit, and a new, more powerful engine. While General Motors (GM) CEO Mary Barra promoted the extended 50-mile electric range and 41 mpg combined fuel economy in hybrid mode, she also highlighted the Volt’s quicker acceleration compared to the original model.
Meanwhile, all of the new plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) models introduced to date by Volkswagen have been given a GTE badge, indicating that these are performance-oriented PHEVs, just as GTI and GTD identify gasoline and diesel-fueled performance variants. Each of these models, including the new crossover utility concept shown in Detroit, feature larger, more powerful internal-combustion engines than those typically found in hybrids optimized for efficiency, such as the Toyota Prius.
A Cost to Pay
“We very much want to maximize the efficiency of all of our models, but there is a cost premium involved with adding batteries and electric motors,” said Volkswagen spokesman Mark Gillies. “So far we have found that customers are more willing to pay the price premium if we provide the technology in combination with the other capabilities they expect at that level, although as we increase production, we expect to bring plug-in hybrids to more affordable trims.”
The Cross Coupe GTE concept previews the styling direction for an upcoming seven passenger crossover utility vehicle. The concept car is powered by a 276 hp V6 engine, along with an electric motor at each axle for on-demand all-wheel-drive. The combined output of the propulsion system is 355 hp, for 0-60 mph acceleration of just 6.0 seconds, while the 14.1 kWh lithium ion battery provides an estimated 20 miles of emissions-free driving.
Volkwagen’s premium sibling brand, Audi, introduced a redesigned Q7 SUV that is 700 lbs lighter than the model it replaces. In addition to traditional gasoline and diesel engines, the Q7 will be the first production vehicle offered with a diesel-hybrid electric propulsion system. Rather than one of the four-cylinder diesels that Audi has in its lineup, the Q7 e-tron Quattro gets a 3.0-liter V6 that combines with two electric motors for 373 hp and 516 lb-ft. of torque that should yield swift acceleration and a claimed 35 miles of electric driving range.
Honda launched the idea of a performance hybrid when it added the original Integrated Motor Assist system to the V6-powered Accord sedan a decade ago. At that time, consumers were not yet willing to accept the idea of hybrid power as a performance enhancer, and the first Accord hybrid was a commercial flop. Since then, we have seen the introduction of $1 million supercars, like the LaFerrari, McLaren P1, and Porsche 918 with plug-in hybrid power, and the idea has come full circle.
The all-new second-generation Acura NSX debuted in production form this year. Acura won’t reveal full specs for the new NSX until closer to production this summer, but did tell the media in attendance that a new twin-turbocharged V6 engine and three electric motors will produce more than 550 hp for the lightweight two-seat sports car.
After debuting in fuel economy specials, like the original Toyota Prius and Honda Insight in the 1990s, hybrid power has jumped to the opposite end of the automotive spectrum – and will hopefully soon converge on the heart of the mainstream market.
Tags: Clean Transportation, Conferences & Events, Electric Vehicles, Transportation Efficiencies
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