Imagine for a moment, that Gordon Gekko, the capitalist sociopath from Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987), was instead a modern day auto executive. His most famous quote from the movie might have gone a little more like this:
“Green, for lack of a better word, is good. Green is right. Green works. Green clarifies and cuts through and captures the essence of evolutionary spirit. Green in all of its forms, green for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And green, you mark my words, will not only save the US Auto Industry, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”
Indeed, at the 2008 Chicago Auto Show, it seemed as though the US Auto Industry had recently hired Captain Planet as a consultant.
Every February, North America’s largest auto show establishes temporary residence at Chicago’s massive McCormick Place convention complex. Occupying 1.2 million square feet with 1000 vehicles, the Chicago Auto Show is the third largest auto show in the world. If that weren’t impressive enough, the floor of the McCormick place convention center can accommodate 26 Boeing 747s and 24 Sears Towers.
This show isn’t for the agoraphobic, claustrophobic, or motorphobic.
If you didn’t have the opportunity to attend this year, worry not. I encourage you to experience the show vicariously as I recount my hectic 3 hours.
When I arrive at the car show, I found myself in the midst of the ‘Chevrolet experience’. Immediately, I noticed something peculiar
Everything is green.
The walls were green, the carpet was green, and even the lighting had a greenish hue to it. I soon discovered that this is all part of Chevy’s “Gas-friendly to gas-free” initiative. A closer look uncovered a 6-part Fuel Economy initiative that boasted Fuel Efficiency models, E85 Ethanol alternative fuel vehicles, Active Fuel management technology, Hybrid, Electric, and Fuel Cell technology.
Perhaps the most interesting ‘Green’ Auto that Chevrolet displays at the Auto Show is the 2008 Equinox FCEV (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle). With a curb weight of 4,431 pounds, the Equinox, a traditional SUV, can transport up to 4 adults and reach 60mph in about 12 seconds. Its most impressive quality, from a utility standpoint, is its ability to travel almost 150 miles before refueling. General Motors plans on rolling out the automobile for field-testing in the coming months as a part of their ‘Project Highway’ program.
Elsewhere on the floor, Korean automobile manufacturer Hyundai showcased its futuristic fuel cell concept.
Not quite a sedan, and not quite an SUV, the I-Blue as it is named, falls under the Crossover Utility Vehicle category (CUV) and can travel 233 miles without refueling. Granted Hyundai is still very much a growing brand, its promotion of the I-Blue represents a considerable effort by the warranty generous manufacturer to advertise its expertise in the field. Hyundai hopes to achieve mass production capability of its highly integrated fuel cell technology within the coming decade. Perhaps the most alluring quality of the I-Blue is its exterior styling. Modeled after the yin and yang, the automobile combines a square and circle that results in a rhombus derived shape. The “futuristic form flow” allows for a more elongated, spacious seating area that is also eye catching. Drivers of the automobile will enjoy a Forumula-1 inspired steering wheel and extra legroom due to the suspended center console.
So what’s happening with the hybrids?
With the introduction the 2008 Green Line series, Saturn announces its foray into hybrids in the form of the VUE SUV, and AURA 4-door sedan.
The latter is aggressively priced at $22,790 (base), which makes it one of the most affordable hybrids on the market. The former, which boasts an EPA estimated 25 city/32 highway mpg, has the best highway fuel economy of any SUV. The “Green line” introduction follows another interesting accomplishment from Saturn. The technology forward automaker recently built the world’s first certified green automotive assembly plant. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect about Saturn’s presence at the auto show was their unique application of green imagery in their exhibit. Projected onto the surface of both Green Line models were images of nature (forest, water, trees, etc.). This simple marketing technique was undoubtedly evocative of the changing nature of the Saturn brand.
The reigning kingpin of automobile greening is undoubtedly Toyota. The automaker is unabashed in advertising its current indulgence in environmentally friendly materials.
All Toyota signage was made from 52% recycled content, and is 100% recyclable. The automobile turntables were made from 100% recyclable aluminum and all plywood used was certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. If that weren’t enough green propaganda, above each turntable, Toyota exhibit visitors would find maxims such as “Tip #1: Plant more Trees” circling on LED boards. Undoubtedly interested in connecting with their environmentally conscious clientele, Toyota hedges their bets by investing in both Hybrid, and Hydrogen Fuel Cell technology. Speaking of which …
A Hydrogen Fuel Cell Reality Check:
Right about now you are probably asking yourself the following commonly asked question. New environmentally friendly automobile technology is all good and fine, but when am I going to see more of these cars on the road? While enough hydrogen is produced annually to fuel 130 million fuel-cell autos, the cost of producing said hydrogen could be as much as $3.00/gallon. Currently, refueling infrastructure only exists in California, New York, and Washington D.C., and will require a further $10-15 billion dollar investment in the coming years to render this technology accessible in metropolitan areas. Until then, expect automakers to keep rolling out the hybrids.
After an exhausting evening of checking out green autos, I treated myself to some automotive eye candy. Surprisingly, many of the concept vehicles closely resembled some of the green autos I’d seen earlier. Ferrari hybrid anyone? Maybe next year.