If there's anything to be learned from the North American International Auto Show it's that hybrid and electric vehicles will soon be moving out of niche markets and into the mainstream. What does this mean to you and the industry at large?
Battery tech is the new V-TEC
Several major announcements were made just in the past week:
Toyota announced it was working on magnesium cells for increased power density.
Johnson Controls debuted a new crystalline battery structure in the ie:3 concept that holds twice the power as the Chevy Volt's.
GM and LG Chem announced a continued development partnership aimed at power density increases for the Volt's battery pack.
What does this mean? The development race will result in different types of technology all resulting in similar performance, but car nerds will still argue endlessly over which one is better.
Hybrid tech will be an important part of race cars and their supercar counterparts
Everyone was wowed by the Porsche 918 RSR and its flywheel-based power storage system at NAIAS, yet this will not be a one-off concept. F1 will soon be allowing these regenerative systems in their cars and similar technology can be expected to trickle down into supercars the same way paddle-shift transmissions have in the past few years. Hybrid sports cars won't be built just support a green image, they'll also show off companies' performance prowess.
Cars will become defined as either being expensive and battery powered or cheap and lightweight.
The CR-Z and Hyundai Veloster both harken back to the CRX despite very different approaches: The CR-Z uses hybrid technology to show the brand's leadership in technology while the Veloster takes a decidedly low-tech approach, creating a car with a normally aspirated engine, much lower curb weight, and a $3,000 lower base price than the CR-Z. Meanwhile Mazda has said the next MX-5 will weigh nearly 400lbs. less than the current model while its closest competitor, BMW’s Z4, will be offered with a hybrid drivetrain.
The first Chinese car on these shores will probably be battery powered.
What was the first plug-in hybrid on the market?
If you said the Chevy Volt you guessed wrong. The Toyota-clone BYD F3DM beat the bowtie's technological tour-de-force to the market by over two years.
You may not have heard of Build Your Dreams, but there's a good chance that you have one of their batteries in your cellphone. The manufacturing giant has only been building cars for eight years, yet the F3 is China's best selling car. The company plans to sell the F3DM here by 2013. Even if their own vehicles aren't successful here, it's highly likely other Asian manufacturers will partner with BYD for their vehicles' battery systems.
The line between electronics and automobiles will continue to blur.
Obviously new phone apps showing charging states and other car-related info are a big part of this, but the two areas are also meeting at a retail level. Ford recently announced that they were partnering with Best Buy for installation of their battery vehicle quick-chargers. The electronics retailer already handles sales of electric motorcycles, scooters, and bicycles as well as the related charing installations. Meanwhile, BYD is planning brand-oriented stores for their launch that will sell a wide range of electric products, not just cars.