Scads of new electric, hybrid vehicles on way

Gas prices are low, but interest in alternate energy and fuel efficient vehicles remains high.

From Chevrolet to Tesla, Toyota, Hyundai and Volkswagen, automakers around the world are intensifying development of vehicles that use less fuel and pollute less.

“Fuel efficiency remains extremely important to car buyers,” Autotrader senior analyst Michelle Krebs said. “About half the people we query have said so for the past year, despite relatively low gas prices.”

Prices are falling and practicality is rising. Jaws dropped when Chevrolet revealed a 238-mile range for its new $37,495 Bolt electric car. Chrysler pushes electric vehicles deeper into the mainstream when its Pacifica minivan adds a plug-in hybrid model that promises 30 miles of gasoline-free driving.

“The Bolt will tell us what the consumer appetite for electric vehicles is,” IHS Automotive senior analyst Stephanie Brinley said. The Bolt’s price, which falls to under $30,000 after tax incentives, puts it squarely in the heart of the market. Its range makes it a practical everyday car for nearly everyone.

Here’s what we know about some of the electric, hybrid and alt-fuel vehicles about to hit the road:

Acura NSX

An eco super car, featuring a far-out all-wheel drive system that syncs a twin-turbo V6 gasoline engine to three electric motors turning different wheels. Designed, engineered and built in the U.S., the NSX will be Honda’s standard bearer as it tries to regain leadership in hybrid technology, an area it pioneered. The NSX races from zero to 60 m.p.h. in 4.4 seconds and gets 21 m.p.g. in combined city-highway driving.

Chevrolet Bolt

Experts predict Chevy will have a hard time meeting demand for this roomy hatchback, which could make Tesla’s upcoming 3 irrelevant before it even goes on sale. The lithium-ion battery under the floor delivers an EPA-certified range of 238 miles. The Bolt has surprising passenger and cargo space for a small hatchback. Behind the wheel, it feels normal to drivers used to conventional cars. That’s a key to Chevrolet’s goal of taking electric cars from the early-adopting technology fans to mainstream buyers. After tax incentives, prices should start below $30,000.

Chevrolet Cruze and Equinox

Chevrolet has become an unlikely leading exponent for diesel passenger vehicles as Volkswagen reels from its emissions-rigging scandal. Don’t be surprised if the slick Cruze compact tops 50 m.p.g. on the highway. Chevy doubles down on diesel and other advanced engine technologies with the new Equinox compact SUV. Chevy’s second-best selling vehicle in the U.S., the Equinox will offer a choice of three small-displacement turbocharged engines linked to a nine-speed automatic transmission.

Hyundai Ioniq

Hyundai hopes to challenges the Toyota Prius’s status as the dominant alt-energy vehicle with this family of compact hatchbacks. The three-powertrain lineup will include a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid and an all-electric model. Figures on prices, range and fuel economy will be available closer to when the Ioniq reaches dealers. The hybrid and EV should go on sale late this year, with the plug-in following early in 2017.

Kia Niro

Kia cleverly designed its first family of alt-fuel vehicles to cash in on rising sales of compact crossover SUVs. Despite its SUV looks, the Niro will only come with front-wheel drive. The drivetrain features a total of 146 horsepower from a 1.6L gasoline engine and electric motor linked to a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. Niro sales begin in 2017. A plug-in hybrid will follow the hybrid at an undetermined date.

Porsche Panamera

The second generation of Porsche’s large luxury car will feature a plug-in hybrid that can go 31 miles on electricity alone and develops 462 horsepower from its gasoline engine and electric motor. The drivetrain borrows on engineering Porsche did for its LeMans-winning 919 race car. The all-wheel-drive hybrid reaches 60 m.p.h. in 4.4 seconds and has a top speed of 172 m.p.h.

Tesla Model 3

Tesla racked up around 400,000 advance deposits for the electric-car specialist’s attempt to build a mass-market car with a price around $30,000 after tax incentives Tesla earned its rabid fan base with the style and technology of its $71,500-up S luxury sedan, but there’s skepticism about its ability to build and sell affordable, high-volume vehicles. The 3 is due to go on sale in 2017.

Toyota Prius Prime

The first Prius plug-in hatchback was an unaccustomed disappointment for the world’s best-selling family of hybrids. Its battery range of just 11 miles before the gasoline engine constituted a minor improvement from the conventional Prius. The Prime’s 25-mile range could help, as will prices starting under $21,000 after tax incentives.

2017 Toyota Highlander

If you doubt there’s plenty of efficiency yet to be wrung from gasoline engines, Toyota predicts a whopping 3 m.p.g. improvement in combined city/highway fuel economy for its popular family hauling SUV. Auto-stop, direct injection and an eight-speed transmission produce head-turning results. It’s a Toyota, so there’s a hybrid, needless to say.

2016 Volvo S90

The only mystery about the plug-in version of Volvo’s graceful big luxury sedan is how much people will love it. Powered by the same powertrain as the acclaimed XC90 SUV plug-in hybrid, the S90 is a virtual can’t-miss.

USA TODAY


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