Glass Half-FullAuto shows are always a bit bittersweet for me. I always wish the industry would be moving faster than it is, but there's so much inertia, some of the technical challenges are so big, and consumers are so unpredictable that things end up taking a loooong time. But on the other hand, if I keep my expectations in check and look at what is actually there, a few highlights always show up, reminding me that there's hope in the ever-important for the planet transportation sector. Seeds are planted that will, over time, grow over dirtier ways of doing things and eventually replace them.
Of course the best way to get around is still to walk, bike, or take mass transit, but that's not always possible (50% of the world population lives outside cities, and some cities have pathetic infrastructure), so cars will be part of our foreseeble future. They might as well run on clean energy and use as little of it as possible (various life-cycle analysis studies show that about 80% of a vehicle's life-cycle impact comes from the fuel that it uses, so if we can clean up the power grid and electrify transportation, we'll be way ahead).
Back to the 2012 Detroit Auto Show: You can see my highlights below. I don't care about big trucks and SUVs or ever more powerful gas engines. What I looked for were 1) green(er) production models that people will actually be able to buy soon and 2) concept cars that showcase green(er) technology that has a chance of making its way into production models soon. Vaporware can be fun, but it's better when it's something that will make a difference. So 2012 definitely seemed to be the year of the plug-in hybrid (PHEV), kind of like how 10 years ago the era of the hybrid was beginning. Here are my highlights: