Part 2: Washington Auto Show Preview: What to Look For

In my last post, I asked: "What should attendees who care about reducing drivers fuel bills, cutting our oil dependency, and revitalizing the auto industry be looking for at next week’s DC auto show?" 

My last post provided a partial answer. Below is the remainder of what I think is important to consider at the upcoming auto show.

Hybrids leaders Ford and Toyota expand their lead. Perhaps the most exciting news from the auto shows is the hybrid lineup is expanding. That’s good news for consumers, more choices and lower cost.

Toyota is determined to maintain its hybrid edge. Toyota’s announced in Detroit that it will be expanding the Prius lineup (“Prius goes plural”) to add three new models:  Prius V wagon (summer 2011), Prius Plug-in (early 2012) and a smaller hybrid, highly fuel-efficient Prius C (early 2012).

Ford announced it is expanding its hybrid lineup to include hybrid and plug-in hybrid (“Energi”) versions of its new European-style minivan, the C-Max, by 2012.  The hybrid version promises to be more fuel efficient than its award winning Fusion Hybrid. The plug-in version will go head-to-head with the Prius and Chevy Volt plug-in hybrids.

New hybrids becoming more affordable. Regulation drives innovation. A new design is emerging to compete with the current industry standard, the Toyota Hybrid System (Ford uses a similar design), the so-called “P2” system. It is simpler and should be cheaper at mass volumes. It looks like Honda, Hyundai/Kia, Audi, and others are adopting this system in future products

At the LA Auto Show, Hyundai and Kia announced they will be introducing this year affordable hybrid versions of their mid-size Sonata and Optima sedans (~$25,000) this year using the “P2” system. I call these “hybrids for the masses” and promise to catalyze hybrid sales in 2011.

At the LA Auto Show, Honda announced a new direction in its hybrid plans with a mid-size plug-in hybrid built off its next generation hybrid drivetrain technology.  Audi is also introducing a hybrid version of its A6.

Small is the new big, 40 is the new 30. Will consumers buy small, fuel efficient cars? Automakers are betting on it. Sales are sure to take off as fuel prices rise towards $4/gallon this year. Fuel efficiency is the best insurance against high fuel prices. 40 mpg is the 30 mpg: automakers are competing for the high fuel economy leadership by producing models that get at least 40 mpg.

GM’s and Ford’s investments in small cars are paying off handsomely in exciting, competitive products from GM and Ford. Check out these cars which are definitely changing consumers minds about U.S. small cars: Chevy Cruze, Chevy Sonic, Ford Focus, and Ford Fiesta. The Ford small cars are have cutting edge design and are the same as they sell in Europe.

California Pavley Clean Car Package. Back in 2004, the engineers at the California Air Resources Board fought a running battle with the auto industry. The engineers said to meet the proposed standards in 2016 (now the national standard of 35.5 mpg), the industry could use “down-sized, gasoline direct injected, turbocharged” engines.

I call this the “California Clean Car Package”. The automakers said it would be too expensive, consumers would buy them, and would have to run on premium fuel. In 2010, automakers call it “standard equipment”: GM Ecotec, Ford Ecoboost, Hyundai Theta II . As I blogged before, this is tangible evidence regulation drives innovation.