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Could 2012 Be The Year of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles?

When hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs) were first released, many folks believed that these cars really wouldn’t make a dent in the automotive industry. Well, the times have changed and this week we’ll be seeing a range of new hybrid and EVs previewed at the Detroit Auto Show.

What was once considered a niche market and only appropriate for smaller cars, we’re now seeing more and more family-sized sedans and SUVs launched as either hybrid or EV. This week at the Detroit Auto Show, a number of manufacturers are making some big steps in development and production with this vehicle type.

Here are some highlights from this week’s auto show:

Volvo XC60 Plug-In Hybrid

This week, Volvo is launching its plug-in hybrid concept SUV. With the plug-in hybrid an electric motor controls the rear wheels and a gas engine controls the front wheels. Drivers have the option of three driving modes: pure, hybrid and power. With the pure mode the SUV runs only on electric power. The hybrid mode sets the vehicle to operate with battery and gas. In power mode, the XC60 uses energy and power from the electric motor and gas engine. The idea is that these multiple modes allow you to save battery power for when it makes the most sense to use it.

Toyota Prius (sub-compact) and NS4

This sub-compact hybrid car was released in Japan last month under the name of Aqua. Toyota was one of the first companies to bring hybrid vehicles to North America and this smaller version of the industry-standard Prius is geared towards those who want a smaller and less expensive vehicle. Toyota is stating that this sub-compact Prius will have better in-city fuel economy than the current Prius.

The NS4 is Toyota’s new plug-in hybrid concept car and is essentially another version of the Prius. You can start placing your orders for this car in November.

Mercedes E400 and E300

There are two new hybrids in the Mercedes line-up - the E400 is geared towards power and the diesel E300 is more focused on fuel economy with an estimated 50 miles per gallon. The gas-electric E400 gets only 27 miles per gallon.

Tesla Model S

A more affordable EV was launched this week by this luxury car company. While the Model S sedan is not yet in production, Tesla says it will begin production in mid-2012. The Model S does have a sleek and compelling design - doing a good job of concealing the battery pack that can look a bit awkward. Tesla is saying that the Model S should be priced at around $49,000.

BMW i3, i8 and Active Hybrid 5

While BMW is not new to the EV market with offering the electric MINI as part of a test program - it is upping its line of hybrid and EVs. This concept vehicle known as the i3 has a small gas generator to charge the battery - giving drivers more range than the initial concept car. The i8 is BMW’s electric sports concept car which has been previously launched at other car shows. As well on the floor in Detroit for BMW is the Active Hybrid 5 - this car uses an electric motor to help boost power and improve fuel economy.

Honda/Acura ILX

Honda has been making recent waves in this market with its “Earth Dreams Technologies” which includes a new hybrid system, an EV propulsion system and engines with increased fuel economy. But this week in Detroit we’ll be seeing a launch from Honda’s Acura line with the ILX sedan. This luxury sedan will be on dealer sales floors this spring.

Lexus LF-LC

While Lexus is previewing its concept hybrid sports car this week, don’t rush out to your dealer - Lexus has no plans to produce the car or release it to the public.

Ford Fusion Hybrid and Energi

These hybrid sedans are rumored to be available this fall and are expected to be competitive with the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Chevrolet Malibu. With two models - the Fusion Hybrid and the plug-in Fusion Energi - Honda is bringing its Evos Concept car to fruition. Ford is currently predicting the Fusion Energi will get more than the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon.

Volkswagen Jetta and E-Bugster

This hybrid version of the ever-popular Jetta features an 158-hp gasoline engine and a 22-hp electric motor. When driven in electric mode, the Jetta hybrid can reach speeds of 44 mph for 1.2 miles (driving conditions dependent). The E-Bugster is only at concept stage right now and is a more sleek and flatter version of the eye-catching Beetle. With an electric motor and lithium-ion battery this trendy two-seater can power along for 100 miles with zero emissions.

As you can see there is a lot to look forward to with hybrid and EVs. It is encouraging to see so many automakers joining the hybrid and EV market. 2012 is predicted to be a strong year for auto sales and it will be interesting to see the sales numbers for hybrids and EVs. If you’re new to hybrids and EVs, visit our research section to learn more about the features, standards and currently available models in this market.