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Green Cars Charge into Frankfurt

by Jeffrey N. Ross
September 14, 2009

In the weeks heading into any major auto show, there are always instances of either concept or production vehicles being leaked 'accidentally' by some publication or strategically by the automakers. Gearing up for the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, most of the cars being talked about were high-performance sports cars such as the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing, McLaren MPR-12C and even the Fiat 695 Abarth Tributo Ferrari, but with just days left until the doors open, green cars are now making a hard push. Ranging from hybrids to diesels to electric vehicles, the green cars that are making a debut in Frankfurt are about as diverse as the cars generally found on European roadways.

It is no secret that German automakers love their diesel fuel as much as Japanese automakers love their hybrids. With that in mind, Volkswagen will be introducing its 1-liter Concept to prove that a diesel-powered vehicle can compete with the growing number of hybrid-electric vehicles. The naming of the concept is derived from the fast that VW aimed at a range of 100 kilometers on just 1 liter of diesel fuel (which equates to 235 miles per gallon), but in reality the concept required 1.38 liters to travel this distance (still an impressive 170 mpg). The unique layout of the 1-liter Concept is a 1+1 seating configuration with the driver sitting in front of the passenger - a nod to the 2002 concept vehicle carrying the same name. The 2009 VW 1-liter Concept is powered by a 36-horsepower, two-cylinder diesel engine, while shifting duties are performed by VW's seven-speed dual-clutch (DSG) automatic transmission. For optimal efficiency, the car's weight is expected to tip the scales at right around 1,100 pounds.

Despite the fact that Audi of America president Johan de Nysschen bashed electric cars and said the Chevrolet Volt is a car for idiots, Audi ironically took the wraps off its all-electric supercar, the R8 e-Tron. While most of the electric drive components are unknown, the updated styling of the sleek R8 design is transformed for the all-electric model. The need for the numerous vents and air intakes of the standard R8 are not required on the e-Tron model, so aerodynamics are optimized by smoothing over the sideblades and side air intakes as well as the front grille. The 2009 Audi R8 e-Tron Concept also sports unique front and rear designs with reshaped fascias, distinctive LED headlamps and taillights and a unique set of multi-spoke wheels. Following suit with Audi's all-electric supercar, Mercedes-Benz and BMW are also planning greener versions of their super sporty coupes with the Mercedes-Benz SLS Gullwing eDrive and the BMW Vision EfficientDynamics.

Similar to the electric Audi R8, Mercedes-Benz will be showing off a version of the S500 that uses plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) technology. Mercedes-Benz is already planning to release the mild-hybrid S400 BlueHybrid, but the Vision S500 will be a full hybrid vehicle capable of an electric-only range of about 18 miles. Based on the flagship S-Class, the 2009 Mercedes-Benz Vision S500 Concept pairs a V-6 gasoline engine up with a 60-horsepower electric motor and a 10kWh lithium ion battery pack. In total, Mercedes estimates that the Vision S500 should get around 73.5 mpg while improving performance with the ability to run from 0-60 miles per hour in about 5.5 seconds.

Not to be outdone, the reigning king of hybrids, Toyota Motor Corporation, will also have some new hybrids on display in Frankfurt. First up is a hybrid that many have been expecting for many years - the 2009 Prius PHEV Concept. Building off the fuel-efficiency of the 2010 Toyota Prius, the PHEV concept Prius uses a lithium ion battery pack to travel at speeds of 62 mph for up to 12.5 miles, and it can be fully recharged in as little as an hour and forty minutes from a 200-volt power source. Not just a concept vehicle, Toyota plans on having around 500 Prius PHEVs ready for fleet use in Japan, Europe and the United States by next year with retail versions expected to hit dealership showrooms in 2012.

The second major Toyota hybrid vehicle awaiting its official debut is the Auris HSD Full Hybrid Concept. Currently available in Europe, Japan and other foreign markets, the Toyota Auris is essentially a hatchback version of the Corolla sedan with looks very similar to the five-door Yaris hatchback available here in the U.S. The Auris hybrid will share most of its underpinnings with the recently introduced Lexus HS 250h, but it will use the same 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-4 as found in the third-generation Prius. To aid the more efficient hybrid powertrain, the Auris will also receive multiple styling alterations to improve aerodynamics including a lower ride height, an underbody panel with rear diffuser, lightweight wheels with low rolling resistance tires and finished off with a functional liftgate spoiler. The hybrid Auris is expected to have an electric-only driving range of around 1.25 miles at speeds of up to 31 mph.

In terms of its luxury division, Lexus, Toyota will also display the 2009 LF-Ch Concept which will not only give Lexus a small hybrid hatchback in Europe, but it will also give the luxury marque a vehicle capable of competing against the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series. Although Lexus didn't divulge any information about the LF-Ch's drivetrain, it did say that it will be a full hybrid vehicle that is capable of being driven exclusively in EV mode. Regardless of its range, we expect the production version of the LF-Ch to use similar underpinnings as the Lexus HS 250h. Using the Lexus' 'L-finesse' design language, the LF-Ch shares an aggressive design with the long-awaited LF-A supercar, but from the sounds of the Lexus press release, the LF-Ch may be a Europe-only model.


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