A less flashy batch of concept cars for 2009 showcase a combination of energy-saving drivetrains and driver-centered electronics aimed at safety and comfort.
No one at the 2009 North American International Auto Show was surprised to see a continuing focus on “green.” Despite a cruddy economy, automakers emphasized plug-in electric cars, hybrids, fuel-cell concepts, and clean diesel models. But many ideas for boosting mpg seemed to target consumers trying to economize on gas rather than the green crowd. And while advanced electronics are eking more efficiency out of fuel-injection systems and transmissions, they are also playing a larger role in the passenger compartment for safety, navigation, and entertainment.
Here are some of the concepts automakers debuted this year. Unfortunately, no one has yet invented the electronics to predict which, if any, of these designs will make it to market.
The Lincoln C is a small luxury car targeting urbanites. The car is lightweight at 2,750 lb, letting the 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine deliver 178 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. The four-cylinder power plant uses direct fuel injection and turbo charging to boost fuel economy without sacrificing performance. Centrally located injectors are said to deliver better fuel-air mixing than the side injectors of previous generations. Twin-independent variable-camshaft timing (TI-VCT) also helps cut fuel consumption by about 5% while delivering good low-end torque.
These systems combine with a dry, dual-clutch PowerShift six-speed transmission to give the C 43 mpg on the highway. The six-speed automatic is said to cut fuel burn by about 9%. One clutch works gears 1, 3, and 5, while the other works the even gears. The clutches engage with manual-transmission clutch facings instead of transmission fluids. The change saves 30 lb that would have gone to pumps, fluids, cooling systems, and torque converters or planetary gears. The clutches also disengage when the driver brakes for smoother coasting downshifts and longer clutch life.
Engine shut down at idle helps keep fuel consumption low. During engine-off periods, brake energy converts to electricity for the battery and electronic accessories.
The C needs that electricity to operate its voice-activated infotainment platform based on Ford’s Sync. The HMI integrates steering-wheel switches, touch screens, and voice commands for hands-free cell-phone access, text messaging, and digital-media-player interaction The user can also access traffic, navigation, yellow pages, weather, news, and e-mail via Blue tooth enabled mobile Internet connections. A system avatar is said to respond to conversational speech rather than a short list of voice commands and sense a driver’s mood based on voice and driving patterns.
Chrysler 200C EV
Track (front & rear)
Suspension (front & rear)
0 to 60 mph
Standing ¼ mile
Greater than 120 mph
Chrysler 200C EV
Chrysler’s 200C EV concept offers near-zero-emissions operation in the familiar package of a four-passenger sedan. The vehicle can go 40 miles on one charge of its lithium-ion battery. Trips up to 400 miles rely on regenerative braking and a range-extending gasoline engine that meets SULEV standards. The electric drive puts out as much as 200 kW for a peak equivalent horsepower of 268 at the rear wheels.
Inside the 200C EV, drivers manage all vehicle functions, settings, and infotainment without switches and levers. A large multimedia touch screen takes their place. The passenger also gets a “techno leaf ” that controls climate and infotainment or deploys a tablet PC from the glove box for access to the Internet, music files, vehicle maintenance records, and driving directions.
Kia’s Soul’ster is the convertible cousin to the automaker’s Soul model that will hit showrooms in spring 2009. The Soul’ster is a two-door compact SUV with a two-piece removable top. When uncovered, the two-person rear seating area is exposed on four sides. The vehicle has been designed with a young consumer’s budget in mind, so top removal and window cranking are strictly by elbow grease. Seats are cantilevered from the central console, making room for storage compartments underneath. Rear and passenger seats fold flat for more cargo room with additional storage behind the rear seats.
Buyers can choose from three four-cylinder engines: a 1.6-liter gasoline engine that gets 120 hp when mated to a five-speed manual tranny, a 2.0-liter powerhouse that links to manual or automatic transmissions for 140 hp, or a 1.6-liter turbo diesel. The gasoline-powered models are estimated to get at least 30 mpg.
Audi’s Sportback is powered by a six cylinder, 3.0-liter TDI clean diesel that meets stringent U.S. nitrogen-oxide standards, a rare feat for a European-developed diesel. It is expected to get about 39.9 mpg while delivering 225 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. The Sportback’s drive train is rounded out by a seven-speed tiptronic transmission and quattro all-wheel drive. The car goes 0 to 60 in 7 sec and hits top speeds over 150 mph.
Both front and rear suspensions use forged aluminum components to save weight. The front suspension has a support link and control arm at the bottom, two control arms at the top, and a track rod to connect the steering box and pivot bearing. Pushing the front axle 6 in. toward the front of the car better balances weight distribution.
Emissions reduction comes from 29-ksi fuel injection via a piezoelectric common-rail system, exhaust-gas recirculation, and turbo charging. Combustion-chamber sensors monitor and regulate combustion to reduce emissions and boost performance. Emission control downstream comprises a waterborne exhaust-treatment additive, one catalytic converter to remove nitrogen oxides and one to oxidize other pollutants, and a diesel-particulate filter in addition to metering systems and sensors.
High fuel mileage and low emissions also come from power-saving strategies elsewhere in the vehicle. Electromechanical power steering only draws power in turns, the fuel pump only runs when fuel is needed, engine warm-up is accelerated by diverting coolant flow, transmission oil is actively heated to maintain optimal friction, the engine shuts down when the car is at a stop, and regenerative braking shunts power back to the alternator.
A large glass roof is said to give passengers the feeling of spaciousness in the cockpit. The infotainment screen, which Audi calls an MMI system, moves into an easy-to-read position when the driver triggers the ignition. Turning off the car stows the MMI.
Mercedes-Benz jumped on the electric-car bandwagon this year with its BlueZERO concept. The BlueZERO is really three powertrain concepts that fit a common chassis: the all-battery-electric E-Cell, the hydrogen fuel-cell F-Cell, and the E-Cell Plus with a battery and range-extending combustion engine-generator. All power-generation and transmission components are located in a sandwich floor under occupants’ feet. The configuration improves crash safety, preserves interior space for five passengers, and maintains a low center of gravity for agile handling. All three versions have a compact, permanent-magnet electric motor delivering 134 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque to the front axle at peak performance. The lithium-ion battery array sits in the center of the vehicle, the safest spot in a crash.
The E-Cell model’s battery capacity is 35 kW-hr operating between 240 and 426 V. The batteries let the vehicle range up to 124 miles before a 3-hr recharge. Top speed in the E-Cell is an electronically limited 93 mph, and it goes from 0 to 60 mph in under 11 sec.
The F-Cell vehicle has an equivalent fuel efficiency of 81 mpg. One tank of hydrogen, also located in the floor under the passenger compartment, lets the F-Cell use a combination of battery power, regenerative braking, and fuel-cell-derived electricity to go 249 miles between refuels.
But until a hydrogen filling-station network comes online, Mercedes is developing the E-Cell Plus, which borrows the 67-hp, three-cylinder, turbo charged gas engine from the Smart Fortwo, to recharge the battery. The engine, nestled in the spare-wheel well just forward of the rear axle, lets the E-Cell Plus go 373 miles between fill-ups. Drivers can switch to all-electric mode for city driving and recharge the battery via a plug, as well. The E-Cell Plus is said to consume 52 mpg and emit 32 gm/km of CO2.
A 20% transparent, panoramic roof houses thin-layer solar cells that generate charging power for cell phones or MP3 players. Mercedes plans small-scale production of the F-Cell version in 2009, with small-scale production of battery-electric vehicles coming in 2010.
4.89 ft (front)
4.99 ft (rear)
Four-cylinder TDI, 2.0 liter
177 hp at 4,200 rpm
258 lb-ft at 1,750 rpm
Six-speed direct shift
0 to 60 mph
42 mpg (combined)
50 mpg (highway)
35 mpg (city)
113 gm/km in Eco mode
The Volkswagen BlueSport roadster is designed to get a combined 42 mpg and emit 113 gm/km CO2, less than any other sports car. The U.S. version will feature a 2.0-liter TDI clean-diesel engine planted in the middle of the car for a 45:55 front:rear weight balance. Common-rail fuel injection and a second catalytic converter for sequestering nitrogen oxides help the car meet emissions goals. Peak torque is 258 lb-ft, and the car goes 0 to 60 mph in 6.2 sec on its way to a top speed of 140 mph. Drivers can shift the six-speed dual-clutch transmission via paddles on the steering wheel or allow the automatic system to do it for them.
The midengine design gives the BlueSport cargo space at the front and rear adding up to 182 liters. A 50-liter fuel capacity means the car can go 710 miles between fill-ups. Eco mode, an automatic start-stop system, and regenerative braking help the car sip its fuel. Regenerative braking may seem moot without a battery array, but BlueSport funnels that power to the alternator to drive accessories, easing engine load.
From its spot under the Ford umbrella, the Volvo S60 employs the same power train technology as the Lincoln C concept, including the four-cylinder, 1.6-liter, Gasoline Turbocharged Direct Injection (GTDi) engine, engine-off at idle, and a dual-clutch manual style transmission. The S60 also saves fuel by replacing hydraulic-assist power steering with electric servos, using lightweight body materials, letting the driver select an economy drive mode, and improving aerodynamics at highway speeds.
The S60 dispenses with the B-pillar and lets doors open from the center of the vehicle. Slim seats are cantilevered from the center console so they appear to be floating above the car’s floor. The back glass panel extends into the roof of the car for an open feeling.
The S60 is the launching pad for Volvo’s collision-warning system. Dual-mode radar in the front grille and a camera behind the rearview mirror detect the presence of pedestrians or other vehicles. A central control unit uses the sensor signals to determine the type of obstacle and its distance. Radar’s wider field of vision can also track pedestrian movement perpendicular to the car’s direction of travel.
If the driver does not respond to the car’s audible and visual warning in time or with enough force, the system activates the brakes to avoid or mitigate a collision. Pedestrian detection expands on previous generation collision-avoidance systems and ups the brake power from 50 to 100%.
The radar system also lets the adaptive cruise control maintain a set time gap with the vehicle ahead. Previous versions were disabled below 19 mph, but the new system keeps working even during stop-and-go traffic.