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Automakers Lead the Way to Sustainable Mobility in Detroit

The 2012 North American International Auto Show is currently rolling through the COBO Center in Detroit, Michigan, where automakers are revealing not only a diverse portfolio of cars built for sustainable mobility, but also showcasing new ways of thinking about product development and urban transportation through the lens of sustainability. Leaders in the field now face increasing competition from a host of fast followers as efficiency and lowered emissions become the norm for many automakers.

The Latest Concepts in Sustainable Mobility

General Motors focused on increased collaboration, transparency, and responsibility between automakers, cars, and their drivers. GM showcased two new concept vehicles, the TRU 140S and CODE 130R, aimed at younger buyers who want to be connected with both their automobile and their peers. To meet that need, GM plans to involve its target audience in the actual design process of the vehicles by crowdsourcing feedback on concepts and interior design.

Mercedes-Benz's smart brand showed off an urban mobility concept, the smart for-us (pictured above), which is a two-seat, electric, mini-pickup that comes with two electric bicycles to facilitate a fully electric commute. Owners can charge the e-bikes directly from the pickup's bed while the for-us charges at the same time. This concept propels the idea of sustainable mobility to a new level, providing a solution for intra-city movement when parking is at a premium.

A Tradition of Environmental Innovation Begins

Concept cars weren't the only environmentally-focused reveals at the show. Ford announced the new Fusion, with two EcoBoost drivetrains, a hybrid, and a plug-in hybrid engine. Fuel economy ranges from 37 mpg for the 1.6L EcoBoost engine, to more than 100 MPGe for the plug-in hybrid Fusion Energi.

BMW, in addition to a brand new 3-series lineup, revealed for the first time its 3-series and 5-series ActiveHybrid models. Dr. Klaus Draeger, when talking about the ActiveHybrid models, said, "We consider these hybrid vehicles milestones in a time of change toward zero-emission driving."

CODA Automotive announced a new pricing and range choice for its electric sedan. A new battery option is available at a lower price than the existing model and offers a range of 125 miles versus the original 150 miles. For $37,250 and 125 miles of range, CODA is pricing aggressively against dollar-for-range benchmarks of competing electric vehicles.

Other highlights from the auto show:

• Volkswagen debuted the Jetta Hybrid, which will get up to 45 mpg, and will be available in November 2012, and the eBugster concept, an electric Beetle sports car that furthers the " Think Beyond Green, Think Blue" motto.

• Tesla gave attendees a look at the Model S, the electric sedan produced by the makers of the EV Roadster, with range choices from 160 to 300 miles.

Audi continued its march towards offering cars to everyone from the eco-conscious to the performance enthusiast with a 48 mpg A4 model.

acura nsx• Acura showed off three new vehicles -- the ILX Concept, a compact, hybrid sports sedan, a redesigned RDX Prototype that will have the best fuel efficiency in its class, and the NSX supercar (at left), which will feature a mid-engine V-6, hybrid drivetrain developed and built in America.

• Hyundai, while showcasing the Veloster Turbo, also noted the company's use of lithium polymer battery technology in all new hybrid vehicles, and a lifetime battery replacement warranty in the Sonata hybrid.

• Mercedes-Benz introduced two full hybrid E-Class models, one with diesel and one with a gas engine, each showcasing new technologies like stop/start and coasting.

• Toyota added to its hybrid portfolio by debuting the Prius C, a smaller, 53 mpg hybrid for $19,000, then announced plans for a second-generation RAV4 EV with a 100+ mile range, and the NS4 Concept, a vehicle that increases the "human connection to the car" through a host of technologies that communication with the driver.

Honda, on the 30th anniversary of the Accord being produced in the U.S., revealed the EarthDreams powertrain and a plug-in electric hybrid Accord, capable of 15 miles of pure EV driving.

Leaders and Fast Followers

volvo v60Watching the race for industry leadership will no doubt be exciting for both car enthusiasts and sustainable mobility fans, alike. Brands like Volvo and Mercedes-Benz offered real plug-in hybrid and hybrid models this year (Volvo's V60 plug-in is pictured at left), while the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF took their well-established places at the show.

Meanwhile, Ford and BMW continued their march towards leadership positions with multiple models and drivetrains going into production for 2012. Finally, many traditional automakers are now competing with startups like CODA and Tesla, offering battery electric vehicles ranging from family sedan to luxury cruiser.

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