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Color Detroit Very Very Green


Special to The Auto Chanel
By Marty Bernstein
AIADA Contributing Editor

Sunday was a typical Michigan day in January: cold, dreary, dark, with a gray forbidding sky. Ah, but inside Cobo Hall – the over-crowded venue for the auto show – it was hot, stuffy, noisy, brightly lit and green.

This was a continuation of what started at every Saturday night pre-auto show, invitation- only event. Most conversations opened with, focused on or ended with the new catch-phrase for environmental ideology… green.

•Green, for the automotive industry’s concerns, issues, plans, fears, effects, affects and costs of developing future products and manufacturing processes that meet and exceed the stringent legislative requirements and consumer expectations.

•Green, for the complicated, complex and confusing labyrinth world of alternate fuels. Which is the best green fuel: Ethanol from corn? Brazil’s sugar cane version? Asia’s lemon grass? Cooking oil recycling? Refined sludge from garbage pits and land fills? Lithium batteries? Hydrogen fuel cells? Something unknown?

•Green, for the type of power-generation device: Old tech hybrids? New tech hybrids? To-be-developed hybrids? New propelling devices? Diesels? Diesel hybrids? New diesel? Electric plug-ins? Long-life batteries?

After participating in a few discussions and eavesdropping on several others, my take is simple. The OEMs of the world are not overly optimistic, nor are they pessimistic regarding the green future. Outwardly, most appear guardedly hopeful and cautiously confident that “their” company would be able to meet, and of course, exceed the requirements while delighting consumers.

Many auto manufacturers are already in the world of that color. Toyota and Honda lead the way, followed by Nissan, GM, and Ford in using hybrids, diesels and other alternative powertrains. They each have varying sales success stories to share. GM’s Volt is the promise of “how good it’s gonna be… if we can only get those *&^% batteries” to last longer.

On the luxury side of the business, Mercedes-Benz’ excellent BLUE-TEC clean-burn diesels will be arriving soon and should be big winners. BMW has its own diesels and has several hydrogen-powered vehicles in testing stages. Porsche, yes Porsche, is going to have a hybrid. Audi has set amazing records with its diesel technology in auto racing that’s moving to the consumer side with a super-diesel of 12 cylinders. And these are the big brands selling big cars.

What about the guys who make and sell little cars? Suzuki sells a couple million small cars a year, many with diesel engines. Hyundai and Kia sell a few hundred thousand little cars too? Toyota, VW, Honda, Nissan and others make and sell smaller vehicles in various parts of the world. They won’t be idly sitting by waiting for something to happen.

As I go through deep dive emersion into the North American International Automobile Show, attending as many of the 40 plus presentations as possible in just two days, I’ll report any significant green activities, designs and technologies that are revealed.

In our day-to-day life green is not a popular color for cars, fashion, home furnishings – well, British racing green is the exception. This is a color that suggests nature: plants, trees, forests, other growing things, as well as life, stability, restfulness, naturalness. Conversely, green in certain tones, hues and variations can be unpleasant, disgusting or offensive because it may suggest and resemble decay, fungus, mold, toxicity, artificiality and nastiness.

For the sake of the automotive industry future, let’s hope our green represents a leap away from the latter and a deliberate and decisive move towards the future.


BMW Premieres 2 New Diesels The gallery for media types was packed for the BMW presentation. First came the production models of the X6 Sport Activity Coupe and 1 Series Convertible, which were followed by the North American premiere of BMW’s advanced diesel with Blue-Performance technology in two vehicles: X5 xDrive35d and the 335d. Both are powered by BMW’s new 265-hp high performance diesels and meet the strict exhaust emissions requirements. Look for them on U.S. highways and freeways later this year.

Will BMW change the blue color on its famous logo to green for these cars? Hmmm.

Mercedes-Benz Unveils Diesel GLK I saw an early version of this vehicle last summer during a special high security reveal. Everyone had to pass through metal detectors and deposit cell phones with cameras at the door. It’s Mercedes’ smallest SUV and is focused to compete with BMW’s X3. Powering the new GLK, which will be on sale in 2009, is an all-states-clean Blue Tech 170 hp four-cylinder diesel engine. It seems like there’s going to be a shoot-out for diesel-powered, small SUVs very, very soon.

Mitsubishi Has the Green Concept-RA Coupe Resurgent Mitsubishi shows the Concept-RA coupe. This sleek looking coupe concept is powered by a “new high-output” high-efficiency, low-emissions 2.2-liter 4-cylinder 16-valve clean (mean green) turbo diesel engine with continuously variable valve lift and timing control. The promise of performance and environmental responsibility may be here. Okay, it’s just a concept, but how long before it transforms into a production model? Like the new Eclipse?

Toyota’s Small Pick-up Hybrid Truck Concept Concept vehicles used to be closely guarded secrets. But with the Internet, quick turnaround news, and loose lips and leaked pictures they’re not secret any more. Case in point is Toyota’s stylish, compact pickup truck called the A-Bat, powered by Hybrid Synergy Drive – think, Prius. The A-Bat was developed by the TMS Advanced Product Strategy Group and Calty, Toyota’s North American-based research and design center located in Newport Beach, Calif. Toyota’s new secret concept won’t be secret much longer.