DETROIT - There’s a lot less hype from automakers at the 2006 North American International Auto Show about alternative energy-powered vehicles, but David Cole, Chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor said not to worry – the focus now is on action, not talk.
What’s happening now is Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler are moving into hard-core production, Cole said.
Take GM. On Sunday, the world’s largest automaker unveiled two new SUV hybrids – including the Saturn Vue Green Line, which goes on sale this summer priced under $23,000.
The other GM hybrid announced Sunday was the Chevrolet Tahoe, powered by a hybrid engine developed jointly by GM, BMW of Germany, and DaimlerChrysler. The Tahoe will be able to be driven just by its electric motor, or only its gas engine, or a combination of both which will be decided by its computer.
The Vue Green Line's major competitor is the Ford Escape Hybrid, a full hybrid, which starts at $27,515 including shipping.
“The hybrid market is still important to automakers,’’ Cole said. “But profitability remains the key driver. They’ve got to make money for them to make sense.”
While hybrids that cost anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 more than gasoline only powered engines are increasingly popular, production models aren't in the offing for the far more exotic fuel-cell powertrains that were all the rage at the auto show a couple years ago, Cole said.
“You have to keep fuel cell development in perspective,’’ Cole said. “Fuel cells are longer term.”
Ford, however, did roll out a fuel cell vehicle on Sunday - the F-250 Super Chief concept truck. The Super Chief’s most interesting feature is its powertrain – a V-10 engine with what Ford calls a tri-flex fueling system that enables the engine to run on hydrogen, ethanol or gasoline.
But don’t look for the Super Chief to hit the roads before decade's end.
“We still need to get a fuel-cell infrastructure in place across this country,” Cole said. "We haven't solved that problem yet."