At Witz' End: Detroit Auto Show: Reality Check - Part I
While a number of high-powered gas- and diesel-burning machines (mostly from Europe) shared the NAIAS spotlight, nearly everyone there showed current and future EVs and gas-electric hybrids (HEVs). Among these, which will actually happen; which might sell in serious numbers; which (if any) will succeed to the point of being profitable for their makers?
Let us speculate (after the jump).
2010 Toyota Prius
Topping greenmobile headlines, Toyota – the planet's top selling automaker by 600K vehicles in 2008, but still trailing GM by more than 737K in U.S. sales – rolled out its 2010 Gen IV (counting the Japan-only Gen I) Prius. Though U.S. Prius sales were down 48 percent late last year and 12.3 percent for the full year as gas prices plummeted, Toyota predicted that this slightly larger, roomier and more powerful, yet lighter and more fuel efficient (50 mpg EPA combined) new model will sell to the tune of 180,000 units here in 2010.
For real? Early 2009 production
U.S. annual sales? 150K-plus, depending on gas prices
Profitable? Toyota won't admit it, but the dedicated-platform/high-tech powertrain Pruis' cost is still well above its $23-30K selling prices
Toyota FT-EV concept
Two-door Li-ion battery EV conversion of teeny Japan-market iQ may reach very limited production by 2012. With a projected 50-mile range and two-hour recharge time on 220V power, U.S. consumer acceptance in serious numbers is not likely.
For real? Maybe for Asia and Europe; unlikely here unless gas gets really expensive
U.S. annual sales? Slim to none
Profitable? Little chance
2010 Lexus HS250h
More than a re-bodied Prius, it is longer and wider, and its gas engine (Lexus' first 4-cylinder) is larger and more powerful at 2.4 liters and 187 hp. As Lexus' first hybrid not sharing its body with any other model, its most affordable hybrid and its most fuel-efficient vehicle, it will slot just above the (Camry-based) entry-level ES. But with pricing likely around $40K, less-than-distinctive styling and fuel economy in the mid 30s, it won't generate large numbers.
For real? Early 2009 production
U.S. annual sales? 40-50K
Profitable? With dedicated body, not likely even at Lexus prices
2010 Honda Insight
Finally realizing its high-mileage hybrid has to look like one to effectively compete with Toyota's Prius, Honda debuted its 2010 dedicated-body Insight hybrid sedan, but with no fanfare. It was just there, looking much like Honda's earlier FCX fuel cell car (and not unlike the 2010 Prius), for media to see and pick up a press kit. Using Honda's latest-generation Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology - still not a full hybrid that can operate for any distance on battery alone - but priced below both Prius and Civic Hybrid, it will be the U.S. market's most affordable hybrid but, at about 42 EPA-rated mpg, will fall short of the Prius' 50 number.
For real? Early 2009 production
U.S. annual sales? 100K
Profitable? No; dedicated body, but simpler, less expensive system than Toyota's
Cadillac Converj concept
A stunningly-styled Cadillac luxury coupe with Chevy Volt's "Voltec" range-extender EV powertrain on GM's next-gen compact architecture, it could have modest profit potential if enough buyers would pay a price for it that is greater than the cost to build. Will financially-struggling GM find enough budget to develop it?
For real? Could happen if/when the U.S. economy, and car sales, sufficiently recover
U.S. annual sales? 10-20K depending on price and gas prices
Profitable? Long-shot for production but better per-unit potential than lower-priced Volt
Ford future EVs
Thanks to its new second-generation parallel hybrid system (similar to Toyota's but unrelated), Ford already builds the industry's most fuel-efficient mid-size sedans (Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan Hybrids) and compact crossovers (Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner Hybrids) but readily admits that each one sold loses money. Like Toyota's, this complex system's cost far exceeds its customers' ability and/or willingness to pay for it.
Ford told the media at NAIAS that it was working aggressively to develop battery electrics (BEVs) and new HEVs and would begin rolling some out next year. Specifically announced were a BEV commercial van (most likely a conversion of the already coming-to-the-U.S. compact European Transit Connect) in 2010, a small (Focus-size) BEV car in 2011 and next-gen HEVs, "including a plug-in version" in 2012.
For real? Count on new hybrids and some BEVs, though they could be delayed
U.S. annual sales? HEVs: 40K; BEVs: given high prices/low ranges, fewer than 10K
Profitable? Not until volumes and selling prices increase
Chrysler future EVs
Desperate to prove both relevance and seriousness, Chrysler rolled out updated versions of three concept EVs it showed last fall - a Lotus-based Dodge Circuit BEV sports car and converted Jeep Wrangler and Chrysler Town and Country range-extender EVs - and two new potential entries, a Dodge Patriot BEV and a rear-drive "200C" range-extender EV that probably previews the handsome styling of Chrysler's future mid-size sedan. The Patriot is driven by a 150 kW (200-hp) motor, the Wrangler by individual wheel motors, the other three by powerful 200 kW (268-hp) motors, and all five carry Li-ion batteries.
Chrysler says it will bring at least one of these out by the end of next year, and three more by 2013, but may be underestimating the substantial cost and development effort required, especially for (GM E-Flex-like) range extender systems. If any do see production in 2010, we'd bet on the simple Patriot conversion. But even with a li-ion pack, as an electrified conventional compact truck not designed from the tires up for ultra-efficiency, it would be pricey yet lucky to surpass 100 miles of range. Next best bet would be the quick and sexy Circuit, essentially a lower-priced (though not at all inexpensive) Dodge "Tesla" two-seater.
For real? To survive, Chrysler must focus precious development time and dollars on potentially profitable conventional vehicles; maybe two EVs could reach limited production
U.S. annual sales? BEVs: high price + limited range = low sales; range extenders: ???
Profitable? High cost + low sales = negative profit
Next time we'll take a reality check look at BMW's coming X6 and 7 Series 2-Mode hybrids, Mercedes' versatile Blue Zero concept EV, Smart's Tesla battery-powered EV, Tesla's latest Roadster, Fisker's Karma and a range of EVs and HEVs alleged to be coming from Chinese automaker/batterymaker BYD. How many are for real? We'll speculate.
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