Much green talk, little action at Detroit Auto Show 2016

With dropping fuel prices, the push to meet lower fuel economy standards is becoming a suggestion.

  • Detroit Auto Show 2016 Green

This year’s North American International Auto Show is boasting about being “green certified.”

One reason: Most food and beverage providers, during this week’s media preview days, at least, used paper plates and cups and plastic cutlery made from recycled material and they, themselves, were recyclable.

That’s great for reducing the re-useable resources going to landfill. Unfortunately, the show floor provided only trash bins. And the few recycling centres elsewhere in massive Cobo Hall (site of the show) had no receptacles for those “green” plates, cups and utensils.

They had to go in holes marked “waste.” at the Detroit Auto Show 2016.

Looking for green among the vehicles had a similar feel: Plenty of verbiage about making cars and trucks better for the environment, but little action.

Carmakers know North Americans – and increasingly, consumers elsewhere – love trucks and SUVs. Happily for them, those vehicles generate high profits and lower gasoline prices are boosting their appeal. No surprise, then, that lavish trucks and SUVs dominated the media unveilings and, as visitors will see, have pride of place in most displays.

One result is already evident: According to Michael Sivak at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the average fuel consumption of new American vehicles has increased by about 0.4 litres per 100 kilometres during the past 15 months.

The carmakers and some suppliers do draw attention to their efforts to cut vehicle weight, through redesigning components along with the use of aluminum and high-strength steel and, in the case of Ford Motor Co., “Gorilla” glass that’s far more impact-resistant and 30 per cent lighter than the current variety.

Most manufacturers are offering more efficient, downsized engines, often with turbocharging, in an attempt to achieve improved performance with less fuel consumption. Many also display hybrid vehicles or, increasingly, plug-in hybrids. FCA, for example, unveiled its Pacifica minivan, with a plug-in system the company says will let the vehicle travel up to 50 kilometres on battery power before the engine kicks in.

Volvo showed its XC90 plug-in hybrid; Volkswagen its Tiguan, Porsche its Cayenne S E-Hybrid, Mercedes-Benz its GLE550e and S 550e. All are big, luxurious and expensive. While they suggest manufacturers are serious about meeting new fuel economy standards and combating climate change, too few will sell for any impact. Ford’s revamped Fusion Energi and the new Mercedes-Benz 350e are only slightly more mainstream.

A couple of hydrogen-powered cars are on display, but that’s a tiny, not-quite-ready niche with its own environmental negatives.

More promising are two all-electric vehicles, the Volkswagen Budd-e microbus concept and the production version of Chevrolet’s Bolt, to go on sale this year.

RELATED: VW unveils electric Microbus concept

But the Budd-e might not see the light of day and the Bolt presentation revealed a disappointment: Chevrolet says the car, with a base price expected to be in the low $40,000s, before incentives, will travel up to 320 kilometres between charges, and with an optional fast-charge port, get a battery refill in 30 minutes.

RELATED: Chevy Bolt EV Ready For Production

Those numbers suggested a potential game-changer, allowing long trips with an acceptable number of recharging stops. But we learned that, to avoid damaging the battery, the fast charger will add only about 150 kilometres of range per half-hour, which means it’s better, but not good enough.

Freelance writer Peter Gorrie is a regular contributor to Toronto Star Wheels. To reach him, please email and put his name in the subject line.

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