Green Side of the 2010 Detroit Auto Show

Electric Cars Shine at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted January 11, 2010

In 1986, I bought my very first car. It was a red 1980 Chevy Chevette. And I loved that thing.

I drove it everywhere — from to Boston to DC to Atlanta, that little red Chevette gave me a sense of freedom that I had never before experienced. And I treasured that freedom.

Sure, I had to work a lot of overtime at the pizza shop to afford it ($600 seemed like a fortune back then). And insurance is never cheap for a 16-year-old kid...

But none of that mattered. Because as long as I had my car, I could go anywhere at anytime. And it's that sense of freedom that I believe every 16-year-old feels the first time he gets behind the wheel of his very first car.


As an adult, little has changed for me.

Sure, these days I take the light rail to work. (Why pay for gas and parking if you don't have to?) But I still love taking those long road trips from time to time. And I still love checking out all the new cars coming to market.

Especially the latest electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. And there's certainly no shortage of them this year at the 2010 North American Auto Show.

GM's Voltage Continues

At this year's 2010 North American Auto Show, a number of new electric, plug-in hybrid electric, and other fuel efficient offerings are being unveiled.

In fact, we're even seeing the debut of a 37,000-square-foot feature called the Electric Avenue. It is here, on the main floor, where more than a dozen new electrified vehicles will be showcased.

Of course, everyone knows about the Chevy Volt, which is expected to roll out later this year. But GM Vice President Bob Lutz did announce yesterday that GM is now making a Cadillac version of the Chevy Volt.

Using technology developed for the Volt, the Cadillac Converj is expected to hit showrooms in 2013.

The Converj originally debuted as a concept car at last year's Detroit Auto Show.

Nissan Electrifies

Also expected to hit showrooms this year is the Nissan Leaf.

This is Nissan's electric hatchback that boasts a 100-mile all-electric range, with a top speed of about 76 mpg.

While I'm definitely excited to see the LEAF zipping through the streets of Baltimore, it should be noted that this is an all-electric vehicle — not an extended range electric vehicle, like the Chevy Volt. So cost comparisons should be taken lightly when read in press releases.

Yes, the Nissan will likely cost about $15,000-$20,000 less than the Chevy Volt. But it is not really meant for trips longer than 100 miles... unless you have a few hours to stop each time and charge up.

The Chevy Volt, on the other hand, can road trip with the best of them; once the initial charge on the Volt is depleted, the gas engine kicks in.

That being said, if you're not looking for anything more than local driving, certainly the LEAF could be an excellent vehicle.

A few other exciting vehicles on display in Detroit this week include:

  • An electric version of the Fiat 500 minicar boasting 150 miles per charge (according to British magazine AutoExpress.)

  • The Volvo C30 Electric Car — 90 miles per charge

  • BMW Concept ActiveE — 100 miles per charge

  • Mitsubishi MiEV — 80 miles per charge

  • Think City — 100 miles per charge.

In Another 10 Years...

Ten years ago, highlights at the 2000 Detroit Auto Show included gas hogs like the Chevrolet SSR and the Hummer H2.

There was only one electric offering back then, and that was the Think City.

As an interesting side note, the Think City was originally owned by Ford at the time of the 2000 Detroit Auto Show. But in 2003, the company sold it to a Swiss company called Kamkorp Microelectronics. Then in 2006, Norwegian investment group InSpire bought it.

Now, just last week, Think announced it would build its first car for the U.S. market in Indiana starting in 2011. The company plans on selling its vehicle in the U.S. in late 2011 by importing vehicles assembled in Finland. The import sales will arrive before U.S. production starts.

While it's great to see these things built and sold in the U.S. — finally! — that was one hell of a runaround to get from point A to point B.

Nonetheless, here we are today at the North American Auto Show, and there are nearly 20 electric offerings.

So just imagine where we're going to be in another 10 years...

According to research firm CSM Worldwide, nearly half of all vehicle nameplates sold around the world (about 20 million vehicles) will offer some form of electrified propulsion technology by 2020.

Now, only one million are expected to be built with electrified propulsion systems in the U.S. — and most of those will be mild or full hybrids. But in Japan and Korea, electrified vehicles will account for about 3 million; in Europe, about 15 million!

Of course, the folks in Europe also have the unfamiliar burden of paying a more realistic price for their gasoline and diesel. And to be honest, until we start paying a more realistic price for our gasoline, the U.S. will likely lag and continue to hand off progress to other parts of the world.

As a U.S. citizen who loves to drive, this is certainly a point of frustration. However, as an investor, we know that borders don't present obstacles for us when it comes to profiting from the electric car revolution.

From high-performance battery manufacturers in China to electric propulsion system companies in Canada, we will continue to profit from this movement every step of the way.

In fact, my colleague Sam Hopkins is heading to Peru tomorrow to investigate a new lead for us. I can't wait to see how this one pans out. He'll have an update for all of us from Lima later this week.

To a new way of life, and a new generation of wealth. . .

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