Posted by derek on Wednesday, January 25, 2012.

The top 3 things I saw at the Detroit Auto Show

One of the benefits of living in Michigan is getting to swing over to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Here are the most interesting sustainability themes I noticed this year. Derek at the auto show

More electric

Nearly every auto maker offers some sort of hybrid, electric, or diesel-powered car. It seems like not very long ago there were only a few companies offering hybrids and many alternative fuel cars were merely concepts. Even Dodge, not normally known for fuel efficiency, boasted of the new Dart offering improved fuel economy with its turbocharged engine.

70s Electric Car

I am a geek and one of the neat parts about the auto show is the way the auto makers display their technology. A few companies displayed the inner workings of their electric drivetrains and batteries. It’s very eye-opening to see how many batteries they can stuff into the cars and how may batteries are required just to propel a 2,000lb car at speeds we’re accustomed to. It was also fun to listen to visitors from the auto industry examine and critique the construction of the Tesla drivetrain. It reminded me of all the time I’ve spent evaluating and choosing open source software projects on Github.

A revealed interior view of a battery pack

Alternative fuels for fleets

A company called VIA really intrigued me. They convert GM trucks and vans into electric vehicles that operate similarly to the Volt. A unique benefit of essentially converting a utility truck into a mobile generator is that you can plug any of your electric tools into an outlet connected to the engine. This sort of conversion could really benefit companies looking to reduce emissions and/or save on fuel costs. Since these are OEM conversions, they will appear in next year’s EPA fuel economy guide, which means they’ll show up in our database, too!

VIA's electric truck

Car alternatives

With all of the improved gas-burning cars and flashy new (and expensive) “battery-guzzling” electric cars, I was surprised to see something you’d never expect to see at an auto show - bicycles, scooters, and personal rapid transit cabs. Since these smaller vehicles only need a battery a tenth of the size of an electric car (or smaller), these could end up being a more practical solution for many.

Electric bikes

Overall, smaller, more efficient vehicles are here in force. There were still plenty of powerful, sporty cars and trucks, but even these are seeing efficiency improvements. For everyday driving, though, better efficiency is a win for the environment - as long as we also reduce or maintain overall vehicle miles traveled.

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