A Look Down the Road: 2009 and Beyond

A sluggish auto sales market hasn’t stopped automakers from moving ahead with new and innovative offerings. So what can we expect to see for 2009 and beyond? A quick tour around automakers’ websites whets our appetite, and gives us plenty to look forward to as we motor on toward the second decade of the 21st century.

Lexus, for instance, has been showing off its LF (for L-finesse) line of concept cars, including the LF-X crossover vehicle (above), which features a fluid, unadorned exterior and an “athletic” chassis built for performance, according to Lexus. A 300-horsepower, 4.3-liter V8 engine powers the LF-X, while the interior evokes a luxury feel, with three rows of seating and “driver-oriented” instrumentation. Lexus sees the LF series a new design trend for the automaker, though no word yet on if or when the vehicles will be available in showrooms.

Chrysler still sees a future in full-size SUVs, though its 2009 Aspen HEMI Hybrid, coming this fall, demonstrates that the automaker has made a commitment to more fuel-efficient vehicles. The Aspen HEMI Hybrid will feature a two-mode hybrid system. In the first mode, for lower speeds, the SUV can operate with the electric motor only, the gas engine only, or a combination of the two, which helps conserve fuel. The second mode kicks in at higher speeds, when the SUV runs on the 5.7-liter gas V8 engine with assistance from the electric motor, which improves passing and acceleration and again helps to conserve fuel. Chrysler notes that the powerplant can improve fuel economy by up to 40 percent.

Dodge will offer the same two-mode hybrid system in its 2009 Durango HEMI Hybrid (above), also scheduled for sale this fall, and Chevrolet plans to use a similar system for its 2009 Silverado Hybrid.

Meanwhile, Honda announced this week that it plans to offer a dedicated hybrid car similar to Toyota’s Prius. Honda currently sells its popular Civic in a hybrid version, but the newly announced car, a five-door, five-passenger compact, will be available only as a hybrid, which Honda hopes will raise the car’s profile and give the automaker a chance to catch up to Toyota in the hybrid marketplace.

Honda also has high hopes for its Fit subcompact (above), which receives an updated design for 2009. Available later this year, the all-new 2009 Fit will feature a new 1.5-liter, four-cylinder i-VTEC engine, an MP3/iPod-compatible audio system, dual-stage front airbags, side curtain airbags, and an available five-speed automatic with paddle shifters, so drivers can manually run through the gears. It’s a glowing example that automakers are trying to think outside the box when planning the vehicles we’ll be seeing in showrooms later this year and well into the next one.