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Fans of the gasoline engine may feel a slight chill as they walk through the exhibits at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
The New York Times reported that while an ice age for internal combustion engines does not seem imminent, it is clear from the number of hybrid-power vehicles on display at the show that automakers are reserving their warmest feelings for powertrains that team electric motors with petroleum-burning engines.
The best-selling car in the United States, the Toyota Camry, will add a hybrid option for the redesigned 2007 model that goes on sale this spring. Equally significant, the next Lexus flagship, the LS460, will also join the hybrid fleet, providing a philosophical bookend to the frugal Prius at the other end of Toyota’s line. With these additions, Toyota expects its global sales of hybrids to top 400,000 in 2006.
The Times reported that General Motors showed hybrid versions of its large SUVs that will go on sale next year as 2008 models, and announced a Cadillac Escalade hybrid.
Design studies from various automakers suggest that hybrids will be coming in other shapes, too: Ford rolled out a design study for a sporty diesel-hybrid coupe, the Reflex; Mitsubishi showed the CT, a concept car that may hold engineering promise; and Subaru displayed the B5-TPH, a high-performance two-seater.
Even longtime hybrid doubters like Robert Lutz, vice chairman of GM, are admitting that the systems have gone mainstream. “They’re here, and if we’ve got to have them, at least we have the most economical one,” he said.
GM’s Saturn division will charge customers a premium of less than $2,000 for the “mild” hybrid system in the Vue Green Line utility wagon. The system delivers power directly to the gasoline engine using a motor-generator that replaces the conventional alternator, rather than driving through the transmission. GM says the hybrid Vue will be the lowest-priced hybrid SUV when it arrives in showrooms this summer.
While today’s hybrid cars use gasoline engines, there is interest in combining fuel-sipping diesels with electric motors to improve fuel economy. As cleaner diesels emerge, the proposal becomes more attractive.
“A diesel hybrid is, we think, one of the engines of the future,” said Mark Fields, executive vice president for the Americas at Ford.