Thursday, January 21, 2010

Electric Dreams

2011 Honda CR-Z
In assessing the kinds of cars we will be driving in the future, only one word is needed to describe this changing automotive landscape—electricity. By the looks of cars ready for production and futuristic prototypes, battery power will play an increasingly important role. It will be used to boost the power and range of conventional powerplants, plus be used as the sole source of motivation in other applications.

Ready for production is the 2011 Honda CR-Z, a fun, 2-seat sporty hatchback that incorporates the company’s electric engine assist, which is already seen in the Insight and Civic hybrids. The CR-Z harkens back to a time when Honda offered a similar car called the CRX. In addition to its smart-looking wedge shape, the Honda CR-Z is the first hybrid to offer a 6-speed manual transmission as standard equipment. With that gearbox, it is capable of returning 31 mpg city/37 mph highway, while the optional CVT transmission delivers an even better 36 city/38 highway. The CR-Z goes on sale this fall.

Building on experience gained by the Mini E, German automaker BMW showcased an advanced electric car based on its 1 Series. Called the BMW ActiveE, this 4-passenger coupe will go into limited production and be leased to consumers on a test basis. In keeping with the company’s theme of spirited driving, the ActiveE promises 0 to 60 mph acceleration of 8.5 seconds. Its lithium-ion battery back can be recharged in about 3 hours and will deliver a range of about 100 miles, along with a top speed of 90 mph. The electric motor in the BMW ActiveE is rated at 170 horsepower.

2011 Volvo C30 Electric

Similar in range and performance to the BMW ActiveE is the Volvo C30 Electric, which will also see limited production and testing. Based on the Swedish company’s C30 hatchback, the 4-passenger electric has a 111-horsepower electric motor. Range and performance estimates are slightly more modest, with a 94-mile range and a top speed of 80 mph. This pure electric Volvo is designed primarily to test the durability and practicality of electric power in everyday driving.

The benchmark hybrid is clearly the Toyota Prius, and the Japanese automaker is looking to build on its reputation by offering a wider range of these gasoline/electric vehicles. The Toyota FT-CH is proof of this, a plug-in hybrid that can be operated in pure electric mode for 40 to 50 miles. If the small 4-passenger hatchback looks familiar, it’s because it follows the same design theme as the Lexus LF-CH that made its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

Further out in the future is the Hyundai Blue-Will concept, a hybrid that capitalizes on the range and torque of a diesel powerplant. Equipped with a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder oil-burner, the Blue-Will puts out a combined 152 horsepower when the 100-kw electric motor is employed. Like the Toyota FT-CH, the Blue-Will is a plug-in hybrid (using a technology similar to that which will appear later this year in the Chevy Volt) that can be driven up to 40 miles on electricity alone, with no help from the diesel engine. The Blue-Will’s futuristic shape hints at a more fluid design theme being developed for Hyundai.


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