Hybrids Multiply at Detroit Auto Show

January 24th, 2008

Call it a sign of the times. Automakers are tripping over each other to unveil new fuel-efficient vehicles this year. For proof, just take a look at the North American International Auto Show, currently underway in Detroit. The scene is green in Detroit this year, with a wide range of fuel-efficient vehicles being shown (avert your eyes from the 620-horsepower Corvette ZR1!). In particular, three innovative new hybrid concept vehicles have taken center stage. Keep in mind these three cars aren’t slated for production yet. But they’re an indication of what’s possible from today’s automakers, and represent a step forward in innovative thinking (though there’s still a long way to go).

Design-wise, the Saturn Flextreme (above) takes top honors, thanks to its ultra-aerodynamic, egg-shaped exterior featuring gull-wing doors, which Saturn calls FlexDoors. (Very nice, as Borat would say.) Under the hood, the Flextreme combines an electric motor with a turbo-diesel engine — hence, the hybrid designation. Drivers can plug the Flextreme into regular household current to charge its onboard battery, and run the car for 34 miles on a single charge. Then the diesel engine, running on ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel, kicks in to recharge the battery and in that configuration the Flextreme can run another 400 miles or so on a single tank of fuel.

Some are calling the Toyota FT-HS Hybrid Sports Concept the next Supra, though Toyota is mum on the issue. But we can certainly say the FT-HS takes the concept of a Toyota hybrid to a whole new level and gives lovers of the Prius something to save up for.

The front-engine, rear-wheel-drive FT-HS comes equipped with a tweaked version of the 3.5-liter V6 Hybrid Synergy Drive found in the Lexus GS 450h. It operates in typical hybrid fashion, with the electric motor powering the vehicle at startup and low speeds, and the V6 powerplant taking over under strong acceleration and or when more power is required. In the FT-HS, the V6 hybrid engine produces 400 horsepower (up from 292 horsepower for the GS 450h). All that power drives a vehicle designed to be light on its feet, thanks to such materials as carbon fiber and titanium, which were used for many of the car’s components.

The third hybrid of note comes from an unlikely source — Land Rover — which just shows how ubiquitous hybrids have become (can Ferrari and Lamborghini hybrids be far behind?). Called the LRX Cross Coupe, the hybrid concept vehicle features a lightweight body like the FT-HS as well as a powerplant that combines an electric motor and a fuel efficient 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine that together eke out a very respectable 50 miles per gallon. That’s a pretty stunning mpg figure for an SUV, especially one that looks and (we would expect) performs like a Land Rover. We realize that, for the time being, these three hybrids are only concepts, but with vehicles like these on the drawing boards (and given the high cost of gasoline today), the future can’t arrive fast enough.

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