In 1963, singer songwriter Bob Dylan penned the words to his era defining song, “The Times Are A-Changin’,” an anthem recognizing the winds of social change sweeping America during the 1960s. Those changes included the civil rights movement, new awareness of mankind’s impact on the environment and in some cases the throwing off of all moral restraint.
Nearly a half century later, Dylan’s song could be used to define the changes taking placing in the global automotive industry. After a disastrous 2009 which led to General Motors and Chrysler both going bankrupt and other manufacturers rethinking their business models, a new age is dawning, one that will likely usher in an era of vehicle electrification.
We’ve been seeing such changes appear in several models now on the market, popular hybrids such as the Toyota Prius which uses a gas engine part of the time and electric power the rest of the time. That combination yields cars that can get 35, 40, even 50 miles to the gallon or more while burning fewer emissions. Honda, Ford, GM, Nissan and other manufacturers have their hybrids with Hyundai, BMW and Kia among the others expected to join in.
But it isn’t hybrid technology that will save the day. Instead, dedicated electric vehicles are beginning to find their way to the market, following up on the 2008 release of the limited production Tesla Roadster and soon to be joined by the Nissan Leaf, Ford Transit Connect EV, Chevrolet Volt and other models. By 2015, mostly every manufacturer will offer at least one pure electric vehicle in addition to several hybrids, diesel engines and perhaps the very first hydrogen powered cars.
This week, the auto world was all abuzz due to news released in advance of the New York International Auto Show. That show, which is going on right now, is an important venue for showcasing all new and concept models. Major manufacturers like to use the Big Apple as a backdrop for what they have to offer including several cutting edge models.
Just this week we learned the following:
The Nissan Leaf, a pure electric vehicle will go on sale this fall for $32,780. That is significant because the threshold for electric vehicles was thought to be $40,000, an unattainable price for the mainstream buyer. Now, with a $7500 federal rebate in the mix, the 100 mile range plug-in electric Leaf will cost about $25K, even less in states where a local rebate is offered in addition to what the federal government is paying.
Ford has announced that it will release a hybrid version of its premium midsize sedan, the Lincoln MKZ, this fall. That car will be powered by a 2.5L Atkinson-cycle I4 engine and operate on pure electric power at speeds of up to 47 miles per hour. Most importantly, the Lincoln is expected to achieve 41 mpg around town for best in class fuel economy.
GM said that the first production Chevrolet Volt has already been built, well ahead of its November release. The automaker will continue to build and test production versions of the Volt to make sure that the car is ready for mass production. GM announced two years ago that the compact Volt would retail for at least $40K, but with Nissan’s announcement look for that final price to come in lower.
Hyundai has been making significant in-roads in markets around the world lately and is now the fifth largest car manufacturer in the world. The 2011 Hyundai Sonata sedan is on the market and is powered by an I4 engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, returning a segment leading 35 mpg on the highway. Now Hyundai says that it will offer its own hybrid Sonata beginning this fall, a car that is expected to challenge the Ford Fusion Hybrid thanks to it using a lithium-ion battery pack instead of the nickel-cadmium battery as used by Ford and others.
What does all this mean for you, the car buying consumer? Changes are in the wind if not under the hood.
If you are planning to shop for a new car this year, consider what is on the market and what will be coming out in the months ahead. If high fuel mileage and burning fewer emissions is important to you, a delay in your purchase may be the best decision you’ll make.
Photo Credit: Hyundai Motor America
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