New York Auto Show 2008

The New York Auto Show has usually been more of a dealer’s show but the show is slowly attracting more concepts and even hosting world premieres.  With a backdrop as cosmopolitan as New York and a venue as flexible Jacob Javits Center designed by I.M.Pei (architect of the Bank of China in Hong Kong, China and the Pyramid at the Louvre in Paris, France), there is no reason why the show shouldn’t attract more press in the years to come.  Still, the pickings are slim with just a handful of cars to report the show is a reminder that America’s answer to helping the environment stops at getting better mileage out of their cars.  Forget CO2 emissions, or particle emissions, recycling, sustainable materials, its all about their wallets; if the price of petrol would be reasonable but we still has a climate crisis they probably wouldn’t even bother with making ‘green’ commitments.  Thankfully that is not the case and American auto-makers are playing catch-up with their foreign counterparts who were in force at the show.

Concept Nissan Cube Denki

Green Tech Specs: Lithium-Ion battery electric motor. Zero emissions.

The presentation of Nissan’s Cube Denki (Japanese for ‘electricity’) concept was an essential step in cementing Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.’s commitment to electric powered small car development and production for the American market. Where most American manufacturers focus on “getting better mileage for our fleet in order to reduce our dependency on foreign oil” Nissan’s Green Program 2010 is based on three main goals: reducing CO2 emissions; reducing exhaust emissions; and accelerating recycling efforts. In addition Nissan aims to have an electric car in production by the beginning of next decade so the prospect of welcoming a Denki Cube on American turf in the near future is a real possibility!

Based on the existing Nissan Cube the Denki flaunts a new EV powertrain as well as some cute and fun design accents like dimpled head and tail-lights, square rims, and lightning motif grill. Like the Scion Hako, Nissan’s Denki uses vertical and horizontal planes to describe the vehicle’s proportions to a young, vibrant, tech-wise consumer; but unlike the Hako the Denki is more friendly and naive in character. It still appeals to gamers and youths who want to spend time with each other but don’t necessarily have the space or privacy at home and want that from their car. Definitely the case in Japan and slowly becoming a social pattern elsewhere young people want spaces to communicate in rather than the sports cars their parents dreamed of as youngsters.

Keeping the production Cube’s left wrap-around window graphic, opening up the roof with a textured glass fixed glass panel, and extending the cabin by 9.4 inches (to accommodate batteries) the Denki’s interior layout is open and like a groovy lounge. The yellow bench seating throughout the interior with cushioned sections and weather resistant vinyl flooring adds to the very sun filled and mellow feel of the interior. Everything says ‘touch-me’ and ‘feel-me’, even the dash is friendly and inviting with very Japanese styled buttons and displays that seem easy to use…just plug in your Denki with its AC charging cord and you are ready to chill.

Concept Subaru R1e

Green Tech Specs: Lithium-Ion electric motor, zero emissions.

This car is not on the list for its revolutionary outer shell or for its novelty but rather for the quiet revolution its stirring up inside. It is cute though, a sweet little package that looks like a friendly bug that could be zipping around your town soon.

Based on the R1 minicar available in Japan this R1e electric version has been tested since 2006 but as of the New York Auto Show 2008 two R1e vehicles will become part of the New York Power Authority (NYPA) fleet. The NYPA is a state-owned power company which supplies electricity to New York State and other private clients. They are known to be a leader in promoting energy efficiency and investing in the research and development of clean energy technologies and electric vehicles; Subaru’s R1e should feel right at home.

With the capability of being recharged up to 80% capacity in 15 minutes and costing just $2 for a 50 mile run it not only is a perfect urban runner but also sets a good message to local automakers to wake up and smell the coffee. Big is not always better, specially for the city, and sometimes small discoveries mean big changes.

Subaru’s R1e is run on fast-charging lithium ion battery technology that eliminates issues of standard lithium ion battery memory loss. Not only do these cutting edge batteries, developed by Subaru’s parent company Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd, have an estimated shelf-life of 10 years or 130,000 miles they are also designed to be easily recycled. Since the batteries are flat packed, instead of cylindrical, and can fit into spaces which are 4 inches high designing alternative package solutions becomes more flexible making the car more efficient. With the capability of being recharged up to 80% capacity in 15 minutes and costing just $2 for a 50 mile run it not only is a perfect urban runner but also sets a good message to local automakers to wake up and smell the coffee. Big is not always better, specially for the city, and sometimes small discoveries mean big changes. This new technology makes this little gem pivotal to fueling our expectations of a CO2 emission free future.

Concept Ford Transit Connect Taxi

$2.50 initial fare

$0.40 Per 1/3 mile/ minute

$1.00 M-F 4-8pm

$0.50 nights 8pm - 6am

$45 flat fare airport

Green Tech Specs: 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission, fuel consumption 19 mpg in the city (30% improvement in fuel economy and nearly 90% lower tailpipe emissions than many of today’s traditional taxis).

Good design has always come from being true to an idea, a need, or oneself, as in ‘design what you know’. As one of North America’s largest supplier of taxi vehicles and a leader in the business of gas-electric hybrid-powered taxis in San Francisco and New York it was ‘cool’ to see Fords’ Transit Connect Taxi Concept at the New York Auto Show 2008. Judging from the positive feedback that resonated at the show it just goes to show that people want real concept solutions to today’s green transport problems, and if its presented in a neat and fun package, even better!

People who live in cities can relate to this kind of product on so many levels. First and foremost it is fuel efficient in the city which is on everybody’s agenda these days, who would not rather ride in a ‘green’ taxi than not? Second, the friendly and open architecture of the Transit Connect layout invites people into the taxi much like London’s Black Cabs and very unlike the current uncomfortable and tight NY taxis. Designed in Europe the Transit brings its space-saving vertical orientation to New York’s congested streets, giving passengers more upward visual room with roof viewing windows and ‘rectangular’ loading space for better transportation of goods.

More than just a pretty package that could bore most savvy New Yorkers, the taxi has some nifty gadgets to entertain the passengers in the back. An interactive touch-screen electronic infotainment and navigation system shows passengers their accumulating cab fare as well as scrolling news, weather, sports score and stock ticker. A revolving “Sputnik” sphere replaces the dirty trays in today’s taxis to pay the fare and the halo-like ‘taxi bubble’ that lights up on all four sides turns green when the taxi is free or orange when occupied. The classic yellow look is offset by deep grey fenders and fascias which are more resistant applicable to city wear and tear, while its tall stature fits in nicely with the city’s landscape.

Prize World Green Car Of The Year BMW 118d

Green Tech Specs: fuel consumption 62.8mpg, 4.7 litres/100 km, with CO2 emissions of just 119g/km with Efficient-Dynamics (Brake Energy Regeneration, Auto Start-Stop and Electric Power Steering).

“…and this year’s winner of the World Green Car of the Year is, BMW 118d! In a dimly lit venue the World Green Car Award was given to the BMW118d at the New York Auto Show 2008. In its third year of existence this award is gaining ground ground and recognition internationally despite the competition. Under the umbrella of the World Car Awards the World Green Car Award was created as a specialty award in 2005. The awards are run by a non-profit organization managed and conducted by automotive journalists from Asia, Europe, and North America with headquarters in Toronto, Canada.

The candidates are selected from production cars or prototype/experimental cars with near-future applications manufactured in quantinties of ten or more. For the World Green Car Award the vehicle must satisfy one or more of the following: a – tailpipe emissions equal to or better than California SULEV or US EPA Tier 2, Bin2, or Euro V regulations, or equivalent, b - fuel consumption equal to or lower than 5.0 L/100km (47.6 mpg US) combined (55% City + 45% Highway) or equivalent (blended fuel volume if flex-fuel), c - use of a major advanced powerplant technology (beyond engine componentry) aimed specifically at increasing the vehicle's environmental responsibility (e.g. hybrid, fuel cell, etc.). After the first round of voting which selects the Top-Ten list of eligible winners the second round is the deciding round where jurors must base their choice on five key factors: merit, value, safety & environment, significance and emotional appeal. Last year’s winner was Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec.

BMW’s 118d with Efficient Dynamics came first, followed by SmartForTwo cdi and Volkswagen Passat 1.9 TDI BlueMotion as the top 3 finalists. The other seven contenders were Chevrolet’s Equinox Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle, Malibu Hybrid, Tahoe/GMC Yukon Hybrids, Lexus’s LS 600h L, Nissan’s Altima Hybrid, Saturn’s Aura Green Line and Vue Green Line.

Concept Milner Motors ElectriCar

Green Tech Specs: Hybrid-Electric

Milner Motors is a mom and pop (and son) operation, there is no doubt about that, but what we forget in many of these cases is that many successful enterprises started out this way. The stand at the New York Auto Show 2008 was very much a family fair, even the products exhibited, the AirCar and ElectriCar, share the same aircraft fuselage inspired design.

The AirCar, a self-contained four-door, four-seat flying car; yep, a car that flies and/or a plane that drives. At the moment it is a car that looks like a plane, doesn't fly but can drive…make sense? It will! Designed for the US market the AirCar appeals to Americans because they have so much space yet amazingly there are airports within 20 miles of 98% of its population. Great idea, however, until this flying car doesn’t run on green fuel we move on to the car the Milners designed inspired by the AirCar, the ElectriCar.

Don’t let the name fool you, the ElectriCar is actually powered by a plug-in hybrid electric car, meaning as long as its charged it will run for about 2 hours, or 100 miles and then switches over to a gasoline-powered generator which provides electricity to the batteries. Unlike other cars at the show the form of the car reflects its purpose, better aerodynamics and lighter weight materials makes for better fuel efficiency hence less emissions. So even on long trips when the car is running on gasoline, it will still be maximizing its green potential. The prototype is nowhere near the projected weight, and doesn’t achieve the estimated stats but the beauty of the car is actually in the naivety, hence purity of its design. Here is hoping that details such as the wing inspired fenders, full wrap-around cockpit glass graphic, and G-string tail won’t disappear if it ever goes into production!

Concept Saleen S5S Raptor

Green Tech Specs: Cellulosic ethanol (made from plant fibres or general waste, not starches like corn) E85 Saleen 5.0L Supercharged Engine. Cellulosic ethanol is the same formula that is the official fuel of the 2008 American Le Mans Race.

“Nasty! Its so nasty, it will want to make you want to put on your bikini cover yourself in eco-goop and slide all over it!”, thats New York for ‘thats one sexy car’. This is a good thing for Saleen, and for us as well, as President and CEO Paul Wilbur explained, the Raptor, aka S5S, runs on an E85 fed engine making this supercar ‘mean and clean’.

The design of the vehicle was entrusted to ASC Creative Services and in particular headed up by CCS graduate David Byron. The Raptor is decidedly sexy, and quintessentially American, with broad shoulders, aggressive ‘in your face’ stance and no compromise power. She is also blessed with an un-paralleled elegance and sophistication that other cars in Saleen’s portolfio may have lacked in the past pushing her to the forefront of supercar design if put into production.

All the supercar elements are present in the Saleen Raptor, a little Lambo in the rear treatment of the exhaust outlets and a little McLaren in the front with sculpted muscular fenders that speed back into lateral air intakes. The most unique design highlight on the Raptor is without a doubt the LED headlamps that are inlaid and follow the negative contour of the hood-line. With a sweeping roof graphic that covers the cockpit area it is a shame that the interior wasn’t developed for the show as it would have surely added to the concept’s WOW factor. The good news for extreme sports car lovers, and now for those who want a cleanish conscious as well, is that the S5S Raptor could go to market in as little as 2 years with a price tag near the US $185,000 mark.

Concept Kia Koup Concept

Green Tech Specs: 2.0-liter Theta II turbocharged engine producing 290 horsepower paired with a GDI (Gasoline Direct Injection) twin scroll turbocharger for greater power and efficiency. Improved combustion assures excellent fuel economy and low emissions.

Perhaps someone will call Kia the ‘come back kid’ of 2008 by the year’s end but until then the jury is definitely out. Although the Kia Koup was a move by the company to re-establish the brand as sporty and energetic, in their words “Exciting and Enabling” (sorry, what?), it was a conservative job well done. Read the press kit one time over and phrases like “Kia strives to appeal to the emotional side of car enthusiasts who seek adventure and want to take a leap into the future with style and advanced technology, and the KOUP effectively delivers.”, will take you back to the late 80’s as much as the styling will. Its a nice looking car with clean design elements such as what Kia calls the ‘check mark’ shape on the rocker will that enhances the forward performance stance of the car. Yes it does do that, but is that new? No.

Ex-Audi and now Chief of Design at Kia Peter Shreyer, perhaps most credited with the AudiTT, has the heavy task of brining Kia’s image to the same competitive levels as his former employer’s. However, designed in Kia-Hyundai’s design centre in Irvine, California, the Koup looks like an American take on a German car…and perhaps thats the point. Its not bad, but its not great. The restrained tension that makes the sporty TT enigmatic hasn’t found the correct visual home in the Koup; its just a bit predictable and all too familiar.

The interior by contrast is brash and loud and touted as being a ‘realistic interior design that makes the KOUP a true driver’s car’ (huh, why?). Heavy red lighting and bold shapes characterize the IP cockpit styled interior with the sides pushing out like wings. With the emphasis on quality materials such as Alcantara and leather you may forget that you are actually in a Kia. The Koup is calm and collected but it is lacking the ‘Exciting’ part of the branding equation. It does succeed, however, in ‘Enabling’ us to think that perhaps Shreyer’s team is on the right path, they just need to express themselves better, and get rid of their ‘safe’ marketing team!

Prize Progressive X-Prize

The Progressive Automotive X-Prize was initially just called the Automotive X-Prize, however, at the New York Auto Show 2008 the Progressive Insurance Group joined the race to develop a 100mpge vehicle with C)2 emissions less than 125g/km. Participants were initially asked to simply send in a Letter of Intent without any required automotive experience the list of almost 60 applicants ranging from a group of high school kids from West Philly Hybrid X Team, Philadelphia in Pennsylvania to the extravagant Frenchman and CEO/founder of MDI, Motor Development International SA, Guy Negre. “The Progressive Automotive X PRIZE is an excellent example of how the private sector can spur solutions to our most complex challenges,” said Mayor Bloomberg in his presentation speech where he plugged the city of New York’s green program PlaNYC. And despite there being not a single applicant from the automotive industry itself the public was very interested and excited to be able to make a difference.

Meeting with the Philly team of high school kids we discovered that they already had an alternative motion program in place which started 10 years ago with an electric go cart managed by Anita Davidson, mother of Ann Cohen, one of the Philly team members. They meet Thursday after school and work on marketing, design, etc. each one of them participating in different ways. Guy Negre has been developing his AirCar since 1991 with several models being developed but never any real commercial success. Hoping that this will be his opportunity to break into the market he came to New York with his OneCAT model, an economical car priced at around 3,500 run on a hybrid air-gasoline system. One of the contenders on show at the launch of the Progressive Insurance Automotive X-Prize was FVT, Fuel Vapor Technologies, who for the past 2 years has been concentrating on developing a proprietary fuel delivery system and a light-weight performance sports car. Their alé has managed 92 mpg US (2.56 L/100km) and very low emissions as they try to run the vehicle on as little gasoline as possible.

At this point it is anyone’s race really, and with a pot of gold worth 10 million dollars waiting for them at the finish line (the last phase of the competition is a multi-city race) the X-prize is set to be the automotive event of 2010!

Scion Hako

Toyota's Scion youth brand unveiled its Hako Coupe concept, designed by Toyota's Tokyo Design Division. Taking its name from the Japanese word for 'box', the design was directly inspired by the American vintage style revived by Japanese trendsetters.  At the front of the concept are trapezoidal LED headlights and a pronounced rectangular grille giving the face a "sinister looking" appearance, while the 'box' is strikingly apparent in profile, with a bolt upright windshield that blends into the roof around the A-pillar. "This is a safety feature so people can look at signal lights." The proportions of the car and its short overhangs give the concept a powerful stance, with flared fenders that contrast to the concept's boxy shape and smooth surface planes. The rear LED taillights echo the shape of the headlights and an integrated fog and back up light balance the exhaust opening on the right.

Inside, the Hako is divided into three 'zones': a driver's 'gaming' zone, an 'entertainment' zone for the passenger and a 'lounge' zone in the rear. The front urethane surfaced seats are finished in contrasting gray and orange while the instrumentation is draped over the IP in front of the squared-off steering wheel.  Large video screens in the IP are controlled via a device in the center that can be twisted and pushed while video monitors in the doors and on the side of the rear seating area project images from cameras mounted beneath the A-pillars.