Those included the introductions of several new electric and hybrid models by both Ford Motor (F) and Toyota Motor (TM), as carmakers seek to take advantage of rising consumer interest in vehicles that run at least partially on electricity.
Ford unveiled a trio of "electrified" vehicles at the Detroit show: the Focus Electric, C-Max Energi and C-Max Hybrid, which will begin production late this year at Ford's revamped Michigan Assembly plant in the Detroit suburb of Wayne.
Ford also took the wraps off its sleek Vertek concept vehicle, which many reports suggest will likely be the basis for the replacement of the aging Ford Escape compact SUV. The Vertek's stylish appearance isn't merely gimmickry, Ford said. Rather, the vehicle's aerodynamic design increases fuel economy and reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emissions emitted.
At Last, a Plug-in Prius
Paralleling Ford's ambitious product debuts, Toyota unveiled three new hybrid models, expanding its popular Prius line from one model to four. Among the new models was the much-anticipated plug-in version of the popular gas-electric hybrid that will complete with GM's Chevrolet Volt hatchback, which began hitting dealer showrooms last month.
Toyota said sales of the plug-in Prius would begin in the first half of 2012, about the same time it plans to begin selling the Prius C Concept, a smaller version of the Prius suited to urban driving.
Toyota believes the "C" will appeal to youthful drivers who are concerned about the environment and using less fuel.
The fourth model, known as the Prius V, which stands for "versatility," Toyota says, is essentially a Prius wagon. Sharing the same platform as the existing Prius, the Prius V offers more than 50% more interior cargo space thanks to a squared off rear roof line.
The Prius V is expected to achieve a combined 40 mpg, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates, making it the most fuel efficient wagon, crossover or SUV on the market, the automaker said. It is set to go on sale in late summer.
GM Replaces Aveo with Sonic
Among other models making their debut at the Detroit auto show were two from General Motors (GM): the Buick Verano compact sedan, plans for which were announced in October, and the Chevrolet Sonic subcompact, a replacement for unimpressive Aveo. The Sonic made its debut last year at the Paris Motor Show.
The Sonic, which will be available as three-door hatchback and a four-door sedan, will compete against models such as Toyota Yaris and Honda Motor's (HMC) Fit. It features the same 4-cylinder engines used in the Cruze -- a 1.8 liter that creates 138 horsepower and a turbocharged 1.4 liter.
No fuel economy estimates are yet available, but Sonic models are expected to achieve nearly 40 mpg in highway driving when equipped with the turbocharged engine. Details about when the models will go on sale will be released later this year.
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