The 2009 Detroit show may be remembered as the event where green cars officially went mainstream, launching a green battle royal. Just about every company, including each of the Detroit Three, had environmentally friendly vehicles on display. Here's our list of the five most significant:
2010 Toyota Prius
The first hybrid to achieve commercial success showed up with a redesigned, more efficient Hybrid Synergy Drive System, as well as a fresh face and interior. Toyota wisely left its now-iconic profile unchanged. Inside, the centrally positioned instrument panel is a bit higher tech, while the rest of the dash takes on even more of a science-fiction feel. It remains to be seen whether these evolutionary improvements, coupled with unmatched brand-equity, will be enough to fend off stiff new competition.
2010 Honda Insight
There's no doubt looking at the Insight that it has placed a bull's-eye on the Prius. Happily, there appears to be a lot of Honda small-car DNA as well, as evidenced by an interior that looks very similar to that of the Civic and the Fit. Executive editor Joe DeMatio got a preview of the car late last year, and he tells us there's also some Honda goodness baked into its driving dynamics.
2010 Lexus HS250h
While the likes of the Insight and the Prius prepare to duke it out for high-volume sales, there was also a clear effort from automakers to take wrap their green technology in more upscale (read: more profitable) packages. The leader of this pack was the 2010 Lexus HS250h, due out this summer. Unlike the performance-oriented RX, GS, and LS hybrids, the HS250h prioritizes fuel economy. Based loosely on the European-market Toyota Avensis, the mid-size HS250h clearly aims to draw some of the wealthy customers who have jumped on the Prius bandwagon but desire a bit more luxury.
2009 Cadillac Converj Concept
It's only a concept, but the beautiful Converj shows that General Motors is also thinking about ways to bring hybrids upmarket. Under its sexy, edgy skin is the same E-Flex platform found in the Chevy Volt. GM hasn't decided whether to move the Converj into production (indeed, much of the company's plans remain in flux), but we can't think of a better flagship to lead the Standard of the World into the next decade. It also indicates that the embattled automaker still has plenty of tricks up its sleeve.
2009 Lincoln C Concept
Few brands are more closely associated with large, hulking cars than Lincoln, so it's a bit surprising to see a tiny concept on its stage - particularly one that looks this good. It's no hybrid, but this Lincoln makes our green list thanks to a direct-injection EcoBoost engine with stop/start technology, a dual-clutch transmission, and a focus on weight-savings. Based on the same underpinnings as the European Focus, the C manages to integrate classic Lincoln cues in a pint-size package. Ford designer Freeman Thomas, whose past work includes the Audi TT, thinks that young luxury-car buyers will increasingly associate small with state-of-the-art. To that end, the C tries to capture some of the appeal of high-tech gadgets like the iPhone. Inside is an advanced computer interface that builds on Ford's Sync technology and is planned for production within a few years.