Companies charge forward with electrified vehicles at Chicago Auto Show

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Automakers will be looking to spark interest in their latest lineup of electrified vehicles at this year’s Chicago Auto Show and say lower gas prices won’t short circuit their long-term plans.

Among new offerings at the show will be General Motors Co.’s second generation 2016 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid with extended range and Hyundai Motor Co.’s 2016 Sonata Plug-in hybrid, the automaker’s first electric vehicle to be sold in the U.S.

On the high end of the market, Porsche will display its 2015 Panamera S-E hybrid, which can be powered by the combustion engine alone, the electric machine alone or by both units together and has a starting price of $96,100.

The 2016 Volvo XC90, billed as the world’s first seven-passenger plug-in hybrid, will debut at the show, and the 2015 BMWi3 all-electric vehicle will seek to attract consumers.

The new Chevy Volt will enable drivers to drive 50 miles solely on electricity before the car converts to gas use for a total of more than 400 miles before needing to be recharged, said Darin Gesse, Volt product marketing manager. Pricing will be set this spring. The current Chevy Volt, which goes 38 miles solely on electricity before recharging is needed, is priced around $35,000, but after government tax credits can be purchased for $27,500.

Absent at the show will be Chevrolet’s Bolt concept vehicle, an all-electric vehicle that offers more than 200 electric vehicle range, and which GM contends is a game changer.

Hyundai’s new Sonata plug-in has an estimated range of 525 miles combined gasoline and electric. Its all-electric driving range is 22 miles, and it’s expected to get 93 miles per gallon combined in EV mode based on the company’s internal estimates. Pricing has not been set.

Chevy is looking for a jumpstart in Volt sales with the introduction of its 2016 plug-in. The Volt remains the No. 1 selling plug-in vehicle in the nation with 73,899 units sold since it was introduced in December 2010. But sales fell to 18,805 last year, according to online electric car magazine That was down 18.6 percent from 2013. In December, sales fell nearly 38 percent compared with December 2013.

Industrywide, electrified vehicle sales haverecentlyaccounted forsomewhere in the low- to mid-3-percent rangeof U.S. sales.For calendar year 2014, hybrid sales fell 8.8 percent to 452,152, but plug-in sales rose 23 percent to 118,682, the magazine said.This as average gasoline prices fell to a five-year low in the fourth quarter of 2014.


Hybrid Electric Vehicles: Powered by an internal combustion engine that runs on conventional or alternative fuel and an electric motor that uses energy stored in a battery. The battery is charged through regenerative braking and by the internal combustion engine. It is not plugged in to charge.

Plug-in Electric Vehicles: Powered by an internal combustion engine that can run on conventional or alternative fuel and an electric motor that uses energy stored in a battery. The vehicle can be plugged into an electric power source to charge the battery. Some plug-ins are called extended range electric vehicles.

All Electric Vehicles: Use a battery to store the electric energy that powers the motor. Batteries are charged by plugging the vehicle into an electric power source.Sometimes referred to as battery electric vehicles.

Fuel cell vehicles: Run on hydrogen gas rather than gasoline and emit no harmful tailpipe emissions.

Natural gas vehicles: Run on compressed natural gas or liquefied natural gas.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

“Gas prices are affecting consumers in a variety of ways,” Editor-In-Chief Jeff Cobb said. “Some are thinking twice about paying a price premium for a fuel-saving vehicle like a regular hybrid.”

But the hybrid market was down prior to the drop in fuel prices, he noted, addingmyriadnuancedfactorshave impacted hybrid vehicles. Theseinclude improvements in traditional gasoline vehicles, and some early adopters of electrified vehicles have switched from regular hybrids to plug-ins.

“Other factors affecting hybrid sales include anticipation of new models, such as the Toyota Prius.

Toyota Motor Corp., which accounts for more than 65 percent of the hybrid market, notes with fuel prices being down, that tends to boost truck and SUV sales. Still, Toyota sold a record 311,205 hybrids in 2014, said Toyota spokesman Rick Bourgoise, adding the company is in the segment “for the long haul.”

“Fuel economy remains one of the top purchase considerations for customers regardless of gas prices,” Ford Motor Co. spokesman Aaron Miller said. “That is why we are committed to providing a complete portfolio of small, medium and large vehicles that offer great fuel economy, including EcoBoost gas engines, hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.”

Ford’s lineup at the show will include the Focus Electric, C-MAX hybrid, C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid and Fusion hybrid.

GM, which will also feature its Cadillac ELR luxury coupe at the show, will remain committed to electrified vehicles “across the board,” Gesse said.

“We’re constantly developing new technology and making new improvements with electric motors. … Our commitment is really about bringing electrified vehicles to the masses,” he said.

He pointed to the Chevy Bolt, which is expected to sell below $30,000 with tax credits.

“That’s where we want to set our goals, not having this be a science experiment only the rich can afford, but an affordable vehicle that the average American can purchase and enjoy on a daily basis,” Gesse said. “Not only do we electrify the vehicles, but we also make them fun to drive. The next generation Volt goes from 0 to 60 miles an hour in 8.4 seconds and has a top speed of 98 mph. These aren’t golf carts.”

Automakers must stay committed to the segment, industry representatives say.

Mike O’Brien, Hyundai’s vice president of corporate and product planning, points to California, which requires that greenhouse gases emitted from cars and trucks be reduced from 1990 levels 80 percent by 2050. That amid a huge expected increase in the population, he said.

Meanwhile new fuel economy standards passed by the Obama administration require automakers to achieve a fleet average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

“That’s the law, and we have to meet that,” O’Brien noted. “We can’t meet that with just gasoline power trains.”

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