At the 2009 Detroit auto show, you will be greeted by a tranquil surprise if you venture below the main hall down to the lower level Michigan Hall--silently running cars drive along a curving road running through a pine forest. Yes, you are still inside, and much warmer than if you were out in Michigan's winter. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation set up this forest scene, inviting car companies to show off cars that can run on electricity. Visitors will be able to take a ride in cars such as the Ford Fusion Hybrid, Dodge Durango Hybrid, Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, Ford Escape Hybrid plug-in, Mitsubishi iMiev, and Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell vehicle.
They let us journalists actually drive the vehicles, so we did our first two laps in a Ford Fusion Hybrid, a car we haven't had a chance to drive. The car's interior was like any other Fusion, except for the SmartGauge instrument panel that showed a leaf graphic. This graphic loses leaves if you drive uneconomically, but it was very green while we were in the car, probably because the speed limit for this indoor course was 7 mph, a speed at which the Fusion will happily run under electric power only.
Next up, we took a drive in the Mitsubishi iMiev, an electric version of Mitsubishi's prize-winning mini car. Although cargo space was minimal (it barely held our bag full of press kits), the cabin was comfortable and spacious. This car can go 80 to 100 miles under electric power, so it wasn't going to run out of juice for our two laps. The pine trees and water features along the course contributed to the sedate feeling generated by the silently moving vehicle. As we drove, we pondered whether this was to be our automotive future. Add buildings, honking horns, lots of traffic, and maybe it will be.