• Image Credit: Ford

2010 Detroit Auto Show: The AOL Top 12

Who knows the future of the U.S. auto industry?

Some pundits would have you believe that we'll all be driving solar-powered golf-cart cars by the end of the decade. Other broad predictions include;
• Rapid, astronomical increases in technology such as affordable fuel cell power supplies and hydrogen fueling stations.
• The banning of high-performance vehicles.

None of these outcomes are the least bit probable.

However, to see the future of the U.S. auto industry, just look at what's on the floor at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show. No pundits are required to analyze what's there before your eyes.

The editors from AOL Autos see a broad mix of cars and trucks that meet the needs of American drivers. The newest models point toward a growing number of hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electric vehicles … but vehicles powered by increasingly more efficient traditional gasoline engines will continue to dominate the American market for at least another decade.

Click ahead to see AOL's Top 12 from Detroit, and consider them your own personal crystal ball to gaze into the future of automobiles.
  • Image Credit: Michael Zak, AOL Autos

Honda CR-ZBest Green Sports Car

It used to be that driving an economy car meant driving a slow, dull car.

Not any more.

The sporty two-seat Honda CR-Z is a fuel-sipping hybrid, but it promises to be fun-to-drive. Going on sale this summer, the CR-Z is the first hybrid to ever offer a manual transmission, a sure sign that Honda engineers intend this sleek coupe to boogie down the road. The CR-Z also points to the general expansion of hybrid powertrains into different types of vehicles.

A 1.5-liter four cylinder gasoline engine sits under the CR-Z's hood. Together with what Honda calls an Integrated Motor Assist electric motor, the hybrid powertrain produces 122 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. This is 24 more horsepower than the Honda Insight, a five-door hybrid (with its slightly smaller displacement engine).

With a CVT automatic transmission, the CR-Z should get 36 miles per gallon in the city, and 38 on the highway. Cars with the manual transmission get slightly less, 31/37 mpg. While this mileage isn't earth shattering, it is good and trending in the right direction, especially for a vehicle that promises genuine driving fun.

  • Image Credit: Autoblog

VW Compact Coupe Concept HybridBest Look At A Future Production Car

While it is a concept at this point, all indications are that the Volkswagen Compact Coupe Concept Hybrid points toward what the next-generation Jetta may look like.

Additionally, the CCCH's hybrid powertrain points toward one of the powertrains that may be available in the new Jetta in the next few years (perhaps 2012-13).

It is powered by a 150-horsepower, turbocharged engine featuring direct-fuel injection. A 27-horsepower electric motor helps create a total peak of 177 hp. Lithium-ion batteries power the electric motor, which can propel the car on just electricity. All the power runs through a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automated manual transmission.

Volkswagen claims a fuel economy of 45 miles per gallon. Top speed is 141 miles per hour, with a sprint to 60 in 8.1 seconds.

The future of performance certainly looks good.

  • Image Credit: Michael Zak, AOL Autos

Toyota FT-CH HybridBest Tiny Hybrid of the Future

Toyota executives and engineers often talk about their vision of an automotive future where all cars and trucks are electrically powered.

We're not anywhere close to that end game.

Toyota knows it, and is planning on growing an entire family of cars around their popular Prius hybrid. The FT-CH is likely to be the next vehicle to have Prius as part of its name. Like the Prius, the FT-CH is designed to use a version of Toyota's Synergy Hybrid Drive System, a gasoline engine working in concert with a sophisticated grouping of electric motors and generators.

Smaller than the Prius, the FT-CH concept is more handsome than its bigger brother. The family resemblance is clear if you look at the shape of the roof. We hope some of the funky traits of the FT-CH's design make it through to the production model when it arrives in the next couple years.

Looked at in the context of the last previous three vehicles, the FT-CH characterizes the most conventional and economy-oriented type of hybrid we're likely to see in the U.S., but now for something completely different (for a hybrid) …

  • Image Credit: Michael Zak, AOL Autos

Cadillac XTSBest Big 'Ole Sedan

It's not surprising to see a new luxury car that's long, sleek and black. But it is unusual to find one with an advanced dual-mode hybrid system with plug-in charging. Also, bucking the big V-8 tradition of luxury sedans, the Cadillac XTS is powered by a 3.6-liter V-6 with direct injection. The hybrid powertrain won't be short on power — GM estimates it to be a rousing 350 horsepower.

While Cadillac adamantly insists the XTS is a concept car and not necessarily intended for production, it's size and overall style point to what a 2013 model might look like. Industry insiders expect that the XTS will replace both the Cadillac STS (introduced in 2005) and DTS (introduced in 2006). The XTS is sized in between the smaller STS and the larger DTS.

  • Image Credit: Michael Zak, AOL Autos

Hyundai Blue-WillMost Underrated Concept at the Show

In what looks to be a solid competitor for the upcoming Chevrolet Volt, the Hyundai Blue-Will concept is a plug-in hybrid concept. When plugged into an electrical outlet, the juice charges up lithium-polymer batteries that promise to deliver 40 miles of driving range. If you drive farther than that, a 152-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine takes over.

Cool new ideas include roof-mounted solar cells and a thermal energy capture system that coverts exhaust heat into electricity.

While the Blue-Will's styling is far out, the basics of its hybrid powertrain will debut in the next-generation Hyundai Sonata Hybrid that's due later this year.

  • Image Credit: Autoblog

BYD e6Best Chinese Car We've Seen

Say "electric car" and many people rightfully envision a golf cart with turn signals and brake lights.

While the BYD e6 is a battery electric vehicle, this is no fairway bag carrier. The e6 four-door hatchback is sized like a real sub compact car and has a top speed of 87 mph with a stated range of 205 miles per charge. If the vehicle delivers what its maker promises, the e6 could be an affordable alternative to current hybrid cars.

BYD is a Chinese company that is one of the world's largest manufacturers of batteries and electronic components. The company started building complete cars for the Chinese domestic market in 2003, and announced at the Detroit Auto Show that they plan to sell the e6 in the US by the end of this year.

Initial sales goals are modest, with expectations of approximately 300 vehicles. Company officials said that if sales were successful, they would open a North American Plant.

While the company's initial goals for US sales are modest, BYD's global ambitions are huge. The company clearly stated that they would like to become the world's largest automobile company by 2025.

  • Image Credit: Autoblog

Audi e-tronBest In Show

In contrast to the boxy and practical BYD e6 electric car, Audi showed everybody in Detroit that electric cars can be sleek and sexy and fast. Audi claims the e-tron is capable of 0-60 mph in less than six seconds and has a top speed governed to 124 mph. Driving range on a full charge of electrons is estimated to be 155 miles.

Curiously, this is the second e-tron Audi has shown, and it's not just a different color than the one shown in December at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The larger e-tron had four electric motors (one per wheel) while Detroit's e-tron features just two motors that power the rear wheels. Lithium-ion batteries hold the energy for both cars.

The larger, more complex e-tron goes into low-volume production in 2012, but Audi has not confirmed production of the model pictured here.

  • Image Credit: Autoblog

Cadillac CTS-V CoupeBest Sports Car

After Cadillac launched their award-winning CTS-V sedan to warm praise in 2009, many expected a coupe form wasn't far behind. As it turns out we were right.

The powertrain for the CTS-V coupe is in line with that of the sedan: massive and mouth-watering. The car features the same supercharged 6.2-liter V-8, good for 556 horsepower and 551 lb-ft of torque. Available transmissions are both six-speed units: either a manual or automatic with paddle shift control.

Other than its missing two doors (and check out those door handles -- they're flush with the bodywork), the CTS-V coupe and sedan don't have a whole lot that separates them. But, the CTS-V coupe is about one inch wider at the rear than the CTS-V sedan and should be a bit lighter. Also, like the base-model CTS coupe, the CTS-V coupe features an open cabin thanks to a lack of a B-pillar.

Sales of the vehicle will start in the summer of 2010. Pricing hasn't been announced but expect it to be slightly higher than the CTS-V sedan's MSRP of $60,720.

  • Image Credit: Ford

Ford FocusBest Small Car

Going on sale early in 2011, the new 2012 Ford Focus is another example of what American small cars will become: more substantial and more efficient.

With features and quality that used to be available only on luxury cars, the Focus also promises 40 mpg fuel economy thanks to advanced engineering features like an available dual-clutch automatic transmission.

In contrast to the more conservatively styled Chevrolet Cruze (a cross-town rival to the Focus), the new Ford's exterior design is sportier. Choose from a sleek hatchback or a dynamically sculpted sedan.

The Cruze and Focus are nearly identical in length and height, with each offering room for five and plenty of cargo. Customers deciding between the two may see that the Focus has an advantage against because of its advanced MyFord Touch control system and its optional Sync device integration system (developed with computer giant Microsoft). The Chevy counters with OnStar. The choice won't be easy … even for those who are used to the quality of Toyotas and Hondas.

  • Image Credit: Autoblog

Aveo RSBest Attempt to Rebrand a Failed Badge

Poking fun at the current Chevrolet Aveo has become somewhat of a sport for automotive journalists. Frankly, it reminds too many testers of the bad old days of what cheap economy cars used to be like; slow, noisy, and dull.

The Aveo RS Concept looks ahead to the next-geneation Aveo that is larger, better looking, and higher quality than the car it replaces. Looking into the eyes (headlights) of the Aveo RS, one sees a somewhat menacing face that looks like it's ready to rumble.

The engine is similar to one that's slated for the Cruze, a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that puts out 138-horsepower. The gearbox is a shift-it-yourself six-speed manual. Highway mileage could top 40 mpg, additional proof that traditional gasoline engines can deliver excellent fuel economy without the added complexity and expense of hybrid drive systems.

The overall shape of the Aveo RS gives us a solid indication of what the 2012 Aveo will look like. The profile is that of a sporty European hatchback.

Looks like after the new Aveo comes out, pundits will have to find another car to make fun of.

  • Image Credit: Michael Zak, AOL Autos

GMC GraniteBest Rectilinear Concept

As General Motors came out of bankruptcy, the company shed all but four divisions; Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC. Saving GMC seemed odd to some industry observers because most of the GMC lineup consists of trucks and SUVs that are very similar to the Chevrolets on which they are based.

The GMC Granite made AOL's Top 12 because it shows that GMC is looking for ways to differentiate itself from Chevy.

The Granite looks like it's sculpted from its namesake. Unlike the boxy Nissan Cube or the Kia Soul, the Granite looks edgier and powerful as opposed to quirky or cute.

Chevy is planning to introduce a new small crossover called the Orlando in the next year, and the GMC Granite is built on the same underpinnings. Don't expect to see the reverse-opening doors on the production models, but cross your fingers that some of the Granite's other powerful styling cues make it to production.

  • Image Credit: Autoblog

Mustang GT Best Way To Grow Chest Hair

Just to prove that the future of automobiles isn't all battery or hybrid powered small cars, AOL editors are including the 2011 Mustang GT in their Top 12.

Why would we choose a 2+2 with a fire-breathing 412 horsepower 5.0-liter V-8?

Because it's fun. And because Ford engineers expect the big V-8 to deliver at least 25 mpg on the highway.

The Mustang GT proves to all that performance cars will continue to be part of American's motoring landscape.

If the Mustang GT's horsepower intimidates you, check out the other new engine offered in the 2011 'Stang ... a high-tech and high-mileage (30 mpg) 305 horsepower 3.7-liter V-6. This is now the standard engine for Ford's pony car.

These two new engines comprise the bulk of what's new for Ford's Mustang. The car's exterior and interior were completely re-designed in 2010.

Looking at the new Mustang and the other of AOL's Top 12 shows the diversity of the American market at this moment, and looking into the future. Any way you look at it, it's going to be a good drive.
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