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All Juiced Up

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Cadillac Converj Photo: Sean Frego
By Kirk Bell
Electricity was in the air at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show, and every automaker, big and small, was involved.
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Fisker Karma S Photo: Sean Frego
Fisker Karma S Photo: Sean Frego
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Mercedes-Benz BlueZERO Concept Photo: Bruce Whitaker
Mercedes-Benz BlueZERO Concept Photo: Bruce Whitaker
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Dodge Circuit EV Photo: Sean Frego
Dodge Circuit EV Photo: Sean Frego
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Chrysler 200C EV Photo: Rod Hatfield
Chrysler 200C EV Photo: Rod Hatfield

General Motors set the electrification revolution in motion two years ago by introducing the Chevy Volt Concept car to a packed house at the 2007 North American Auto Show here in Detroit. You know, or at least have heard of, the Volt. It’s the car powered solely by electricity.

 

Fast-forward to the 2009 Detroit Auto Show and just about every automaker is unveiling an electric vehicle in one form or another.

 

Why? Partly because it is the right thing to do eco-wise, but mostly because government overseers are pushing car builders into it with the fervor of a hyena fighting for meat at a fresh kill.

 

Like hybrids before them, electric vehicles will most certainly be unprofitable at the outset. Ford Motor Chairman Bill Ford believes a structured government energy policy will make or break the EV. “You could do it with a combination of a gas tax or other tax incentives on these new vehicles, or maybe a recycling program that would incentivize people to give up their old cars and invest in the new technology,” He said.

 

What’s New

No fewer than eight automakers unveiled plug-in hybrids, extended-range electric vehicles (E-REVs) or all-electric vehicles this year. The list includes the Cadillac Converj, the production model of the much-anticipated Fisker Karma and pre-production model of the Karma S Concept convertible, and three Mercedes-Benz BlueZERO electric vehicle concepts. These small M-B hatchbacks each had a different electric powertrain, including a fuel cell that converts compressed hydrogen into electricity.

 

Watch video of the ultra-luxury Karma hybrid

 

Toyota has earned its reputation as the leader in low-emissions, high-fuel mileage technology. In addition to showing a new Prius hybrid, the company also displayed the FT-EV Concept. A two-seat hatchback along the lines of the smart fortwo, the FT-EV is an all-electric vehicle that Toyota imagines as an urban commuter.

 

Ford has also been on board with hybrid technology. While the blue oval didn’t show any electric vehicles, it did announce plans to produce two by 2010, as well as a plug-in hybrid by 2012.

 

The other major electric vehicle announcements came from Chrysler LLC. They added two more EVs — the Dodge Circuit EV and the extended-range Jeep Patriot EV — to the three they had unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November. Chrysler LLC says it will make an EV available to the public by the end of 2011, but which one is still a mystery.

 

Chrysler also showed an E-REV concept, the 200C midsize sedan. The company is hopeful about the vehicle for two reasons. First, it looks like a comfortable, practical and efficient extended-range electric vehicle. And second, with electric or gasoline power, it could be a replacement for the unloved Chrysler Sebring sedan.

 

See the video of Chrysler's new electric vehicle designs

 

Finally, Chinese automaker BYD made some electric news. The company has already released the four-door hatchback F3DM in China, making it the world’s first commercially available plug-in hybrid. The company also plans for a plug-in hybrid midsize sedan called F6DM and a pure-electric compact four-door hatchback called e6. BYD, which has set a goal to come to America by 2011, plans to offer the F6DM and e6 in China before the end of 2009.

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