News / Economy

Sexy Performance Meets 'Green' Ethic at Detroit Auto Show

The new Mercedes-Benz 2015 C-Class is displayed during a private preview for media at the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel in Detroit, Michigan, Jan. 12, 2014, on the eve of the 2014 North American International Auto Show.
The new Mercedes-Benz 2015 C-Class is displayed during a private preview for media at the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel in Detroit, Michigan, Jan. 12, 2014, on the eve of the 2014 North American International Auto Show.
To look over the roster of racy new and future vehicles at the 2014 North American International Auto Show here, the initial impression is that U.S., European and Asian automakers want to turn back the clock to a time when performance and speed trumped concerns about energy and the environment.

So-called green cars - electric vehicles, hybrids and hydrogen fuel cells - are being heavily overshadowed at the Detroit show by sports cars, in a broad spectrum of sizes, shapes and price segments, from Ford Motor Company's redesigned 2015 Mustang to Kia Motors' zippy GT4 Stinger concept.

“Sex sells. Speed sells,” said Michael Tracy, principal at Michigan-based consultancy the Agile Group. “People don't talk about wanting to buy a Camaro because the base V6 gets great mileage.”

A hint of green

In fact, there is more than a hint of green lurking in even the sexiest sports cars at this year's Detroit auto show, which opens for media members this week. Take the new Mustang, which this fall will offer buyers the choice of a 420-horsepower 5.0-liter V8 - a throwback to the classic street cars of yesteryear - or an economical 2.3-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost engine that still cranks out an impressive 305 horsepower.

“We're seeing a new era of performance cars that are very safe, very fuel-efficient and more mainstream,” said industry consultant Lincoln Merrihew, of Millward Brown Digital.

The latest edition of Volkswagen AG's Golf R, which goes on sale in early 2015 in the United States, is a good example.

Under the familiar hatchback shell of the long-running Golf, VW has fitted a 290-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. VW said it is the most powerful Golf ever sold in the United States, but it also surpasses the fuel economy of the 2013 edition, with an EPA highway mileage rating of 31 miles per gallon. To help improve the car's stability and traction, all-wheel drive is standard.

Evolving definition

The definition of “performance” is evolving, from the old-school values of straight-line acceleration and cornering capability. As with the Mustang and the Golf, engines are getting smaller to improve efficiency, but devices such as turbochargers provide more power, so there is less tradeoff between going faster and going farther.

Perhaps the epitome of the modern sports car is Kia's GT4 Stinger, a compact, low-slung four-passenger model fitted with a 315-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that hints at a future rear-wheel-drive performance model from the Korean manufacturer.

Makers of traditional sports cars are reducing weight, which further enhances both sides of the power versus economy equation.

Even the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z28, which goes on sale this spring, has benefited from General Motors Co's  “lightweighting” efforts. GM engineers shaved mass from the $75,000 muscle car by using a smaller battery and thinner rear glass, as well as eliminating the trunk carpet and the tire-inflator kit.

Lighter weight

BMW says its redesigned 2015 M3 sedan, which reaches U.S. dealers in early summer, has shed 175 pounds, in part by using more aluminum and carbon fiber-reinforced plastic in place of heavier steel and by switching from a normally aspirated 4.0-liter V8 to a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine. The smaller engine makes more power and, with the weight reduction, enables faster acceleration, while boosting fuel economy by 25 percent and lowering emissions by the same amount.

Both the M3 and its two-door companion, the new 2015 M4 coupe, also provide an array of driver assistance systems, including a new Active Driving Assistant that warns of an impending collision with a pedestrian.

Enthusiasts will find many of the same safety systems and focus on efficiency in the latest supercars from Europe, Asia and the U.S., notably the 620-horsepower 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, which goes into production late this year.

The fun factor

Chevy also aims to amp up the fun quotient for Corvette owners. Later this year, the 2015 Corvette will offer an optional Performance Data Recorder - essentially a built-in high-def videocam and microphone that will enable drivers to record up to 13 hours behind the wheel and play it all back on the car's in-dash touchscreen or upload it to Facebook and other social media sites.

Five years ago, during the depths of the U.S. auto industry's recession, “excess went out of fashion,” said consultant Merrihew, as auto companies parked their performance models to focus on greener technologies.

Now that the economy has rebounded and automakers are redefining performance as a combination of speed, safety and efficiency, “that stigma is starting to fade,” he said, “and performance cars are OK to buy again.”

You May Like

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Through Sports, Austria Tries to Give Migrants Traction

With 85,000 people expected to claim asylum in Austria this year, its government has made integration through joint physical activities a key objective More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies


Rates may not be current.