DETROIT - Detroit automakers are following the green theme, set in Tokyo in October 1997, at the North American International Auto Show this week.
Chrysler, Ford and General Motors each have cars using low-emission internal-combustion engines, advanced hybrid powertrains, electric batteries or fuel cells.
And though few are for sale, all will be driveable cars.
The high fuel-economy cars are the fruits of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, the joint venture between US automakers and the US government. The goal is to develop technology for a family sedan that achieves fuel efficiency of three liters/100km in 2003.
Volkswagen and Saab are bringing the most important European production cars to Detroit.
VW counts on its new Beetle to gain market share it hasn't had since the prime of the last Beetle in the early 1970s. Saab's 9-3 replaces the Saab 900, which accounts for 80 percent of Saab sales in the USA.
Daimler-Benz will introduce four Mercedes cars, three of them using a new 4.3-liter engine. BMW will introduce its M-3 roadster. Porsche is expected to show the 911 Carrera 2 convertible.
European carmakers will also bring some concept cars. Audi will show an Allroad Quattro that could be a 1999 production car, and Aston Martin will have its Project Vantage, which it calls a 'supercar for the 21st century.'
The US automakers will also introduce important new production vehicles. The most important might be the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks, whose combined volume is about 800,000 units annually.
Detroit hasn't given up on big or horsepower. Chrysler, for example, has an elegant yet muscular Chrysler Chronos sedan with a 6.0-liter, V-10 engine, and a Jeep Jeepster combining the off-road capabilities of a Jeep Wrangler with the power of a sports car.
Japanese carmakers also use Detroit for world introductions of vehicles important to their success in the USA. Toyota will introduce its all-wheel-drive Lexus RX 300 and the Toyota Solara Coupe at the show, and Honda will show a minivan concept.
The PNGV effort
The PNGV schedule calls for prototypes of fuel-efficient vehicles from the US automakers by 2003.
The companies work together to research and develop technology, and apply it to their own operations as they think best.
Thus, the solutions are not identical. And none of the solutions is comparable in cost to current vehicles. Cost will loom as the most difficult target of the PNGV project.
Here are the cars the US carmakers will boast about at their hometown auto show:
GM's EV1 has sold poorly in California and Arizona, but GM is addressing the drawbacks with new derivatives:
l The 1998 EV1 powered by nickel-metal hydride batteries. The GM/Ovonic battery pack gives the EV1 a range of 250km, 320km on the highway. That is double the range of the current EV1 with lead-acid batteries.
l A four-passenger EV with a second set of seats added by stretching the EV1 480mm. It replaces the rear four-link beam axle with independent rear suspension.
An EV that is not an electric vehicle. The CNG EV is powered by a 1.0-liter piston engine burning compressed natural gas stored in a tank that fits in the center battery tunnel of the EV1. Exhaust emissions are well under California's ultra-low emission vehicle standard.
An EV with a series hybrid powertrain. The heart of the powertrain is a 40kW (54hp) microturbine engine similar to that used in military cruise missiles. The turbine generates electricity for a nickel-metal hydride battery pack that powers motors in the wheels. Fuel efficiency is 3.9 liters/100km, it sprints from 0-100kph in 9.0 seconds, and its carbon monoxide emissions are less than the surrounding air.
An EV in which both combustion engine and batteries power wheels. Efficiency is close to the three-liter goal and acceleration is 0-100kph in 7.0 seconds. Ken Baker, GM's vice president of global r&d, calls the concept 'a 21st century hot rod.'
The all-wheel-drive powertrain is made up at one end with a 1.2-liter, direct-injection turbodiesel from Isuzu and a five-speed transmission from Opel. At the other end is the electric drivetrain from the EV1. The manual transmission is clutchless. Power is blended by computer.
An EV powered by a fuel cell that achieves three liters/100km and 0-100kph in 9.0 seconds. Delphi Automotive developed the fuel cell with proprietary technology. It runs on methanol that is converted into hydrogen on board.
'This is just another step in the script that Jack Smith laid out two years ago when we introduced the EV1,' Baker said. 'We think that not only have we taken the pole position in the alternative fuel race, but we own the whole front row.'
Ford's P2000 concept is based on the Mondeo/Contour, and sources say Ford could be selling a version of the fuel-efficient vehicle by 2000.
The P2000 embodies a host of advanced technologies. The engine is an aluminum, four-cylinder, 1.2-liter compression-ignition engine that can run on diesel fuel or methanol.
The engine is called a Direct-Injection Through-Bolt Assembly, because long bolts run through the cylinder heads into the engine block.
The design allows Ford to use lightweight aluminum in a high-compression diesel engine. With this engine, the P2000 gets 3.7 liters/100km, Ford says.
To reach three liters, the Through-Bolt engine would probably have to be paired with an electric motor in a hybrid powertrain. The P2000 platform is also being engineered to accept a fuel cell.
The P2000 stretches the Contour's wheelbase 76mm, which adds more rear legroom.
The roofline is extended toward the back to give the P2000 as much interior room as a Ford Taurus, the full-sized North American car used as the benchmark for PNGV dimensions.
A higher deck lid increases trunk capacity to Taurus dimensions. Door panels are a new, thinner design to increase interior room.
Although the P2000 has as much room as a Taurus, it weighs 40 percent less. Ford used aluminum extensively in the body, suspension and componentry.
Chrysler will unveil the Dodge Intrepid ESX2, its PNGV vehicle, on 6 January. In 1996, Chrysler showed the Dodge Intrepid ESX concept. The Intrepid ESX used a series hybrid powertrain with an 80hp, 1.8-liter diesel engine.