Nobody is trying to save the planet with green cars anymore.
The days of green cars being featured at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) seem to be over. Gone are the days of rainforest themes and bamboo floors and ostentatiously placed recycling bins. But we’ve been reporting that for the past few years. We’ve continued to note the decrease in emphasis on the importance of fuel economy, resource conservation, emissions reduction, and similar features that make a car “green.” Green is now passe. Or green has become mainstream. It’s probably a bit of both.
This is not to say that everything has gone back to the way it was. Regulations for fuel economy have pushed things to where a small, chunky SUV had the kind of unheralded fuel efficiency that would’ve been one of the selling points for a small sedan a few years earlier. So, in that sense, the entire industry has gotten greener. But it’s gotten rolled into the ordinary business of selling cars.
The one thing which is a green car element that was repeated across many manufacturers’ displays this year was the electric vehicle charging station. Rather than being surrounded by a special display drawing attention to the “green” car, in most instances, the rechargeable vehicles were identified primarily by having that company’s power unit standing beside it (often with the unit plugged in to show the connection). Audi, BMW, Nissan, and Porsche are among those with this kind of display. Having a matching branded charging station in one’s own garage is one thing, but the interoperability of different chargers needs to be assured for the uptake of electric vehicles to continue to grow.
Instead of everyone trying to establish their green credibility, this year the feature that most manufacturers seem to want you to covet is having the ability to connect your phone and your car. Rather than embedding complicated systems into the vehicle itself, they are instead taking advantage of the nimbler technology of the smartphone, and making it easier to pair that with your new vehicle.
The other thing that was striking to a long-time auto show attendee was the number of shifts in space between different manufacturers. While some companies’ presence was in the same part of Cobo Hall where they have been in previous years, there were moves among several companies major companies with their displays in very different places from where they had been for the last few years. Does being in a different place mean anything significant? Maybe not. But at the same time, it seems emblematic of a shift in the landscape.
Tesla, which had been the brash upstart at the show a few years ago and maintained a presence for several years, was not a part of this year’s show at all. More surprisingly, Toyota’s presence was reduced to a small counter with just two people standing behind it, although sub-brands Scion and Lexus had a presence, and they evidently had a bit more to reveal during the continuation of the show on Tuesday.
Luxury brands seemed to be a bigger presence than in the past. Both Cadillac and Lincoln displays were disconnected from the rest of their respective parent companies, and were across from one another in about the space around where Tesla had been in past years. A “luxury lifestyle” magazine (with a handful of high-end cars in their display) had a space easily as large as some of the less mainstream exhibits from previous years, such as VIA, or BYD, or last year’s car printing 3D printer. There seemed to be a new emphasis on exclusivity, while also an overall reduction in the size of the footprint than in previous shows. While last year there were many technological displays on the lower level, this year it was just the US Army (also present on the lower level last year) and the automotive design program of Lawrence Technological University.
But the number of companies with more than one electric or hybrid vehicle seems like this year’s notable trend. BMW, for one example, has three different vehicles (i8, i3, and 330e), all for different market segments, with plug-in capability. That, as much as anything, seems to be the green trend to watch for the next couple of years.