Car Makers Electrify North American Auto Show

Car Makers Electrify North American Auto Show

A range of hybrid vehicles are on tap to enter the U.S. market, with companies planning new releases throughout the next few years.

Within the first days of the 2009 North American International Auto Show's press preview, car makers from around the world have put their green plans front and center, setting bold initiatives and unveiling efficient transports.

Honda's announcement of its gas-electric hybrid Insight will likely provide some close competition for the Toyota Prius. First shown as a concept last year, the hybrid Insight will launch in the U.S. on April 22, Earth Day, and rumors put its starting price at no more than $20,000, making it a couple thousand dollars cheaper than the Prius. The Insight gets 40 miles per gallon (mpg) in city driving and 43 mpg on the highway, and it features the Ecological Drive Assist System, an interactive display that helps drivers conserve fuel.

Toyota has hybrid news of its own, showing off its third generation Prius, which will get 50 mpg for combined city and highway conditions, compared to the 46 mpg the current Prius gets. The newest version will also be slightly longer and wider, providing increased cargo space and more legroom in the backseat.

Along with its latest Prius, Toyota showed off the first dedicated hybrid Lexus, the HS250h, and said it will launch a two-seater electric vehicle by 2012 and a hydrogen-powered car by 2015. It also aims to make a plug-in electric vehicle available in late 2009, a year ahead of plans as well as a year before General Motors' plug-in, the Chevrolet Volt, comes to market.

General Motors plans for the Volt to be out by late 2010, says it will bring a mini-car to the U.S. by 2011 and displayed a prototype plug-in hybrid Cadillac.

Ford did not have any new cars to show off, but laid out its plans for three vehicles it aims to introduce in the next four years: a new battery electric commercial van in 2010, a new battery electric small car in 2011 and next-generation hybrids, including a plug-in version, by 2012. The electric small car is expected to cover up to 100 miles on a single charge, without using any gas.

The last of the Big Three, Chrysler, showed three prototype plug-in electric hybrids - a sedan, Jeep and sports car - and two electric vehicles, planning to bring at least one to the U.S. in 2010 and at least three more models by 2013.