A Look Inside the Detroit Auto Show

Waking up at 4:30AM is not my idea of fun. But after I witnessed the 6:30AM unveiling of the shiny new Porsche 918 RSR Hybrid at the North American International Auto Show, I got over it.

To those who know cars, its lineage is in the #22 Porsche 917 race car, winner of the LeMans in 1971. With a top speed of 140 mph, the new 918 RSR dual inertial flywheel design puts out 767 horsepower at over 35,000 rpm. On the efficiency side, a Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) allows the two 75-kW motors to capture wasted energy when the driver applies the brakes. The Porsche president said that their goal is to achieve high fuel efficiency in extreme driving conditions.

For those less Motor City savvy, put it this way: be impressed.

If this type of announcement captures the imagination of race car enthusiasts, I have high hopes for efficiency across the range of vehicles we drive everyday.

But this year’s Auto Show was not only about cars.

That enthusiasm carried downstairs where efficiency featured prominently. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (famous for their Pure Michigan ads) sponsored the “Smarter Living in Michigan” display which consisted of two large exposition areas dedicated to the technologies that are building new sustainable communities and transforming the auto-industry.

Today, I drove the electric car Chevrolet Volt around the Ride and Drive Track — named the 2011 North American Car of the Year at the Detroit Auto Show. Working for Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE), I am always conscious when I see one of our technology areas on display. And although vehicle technologies were a dominant figure at the NAIAS, this was certainly more than an auto show. Other EERE related technologies appearing at the NAIAS included (but was certainly not limited to) the following displays:

* Geothermal technologies were featured at the log home builders exposition
* Photovoltaic Cells were visible throughout the show
* GM’s Voltec charge station for electric vehicles gave consumers a glimpse of the home charging experience
* Cascade Renewable Energy had two wind turbines on display
* DTE Energy, who sponsored the MEDC display, showed off their home and building energy efficiency tools
* Among other biofuel vehicles, Swedish Biogas had their pick-up truck on display
* The University of Michigan’s winning Solar Decathlon vehicle stood out as well

According the chairman of the NAIAS, this year’s focus is to lead folks in living a wiser, more environmentally friendly life.

As a kid growing up in Metro Detroit, we came down to the auto show just about every year. What I recall most from childhood were the concept cars, the ones that may or may not make it to the market. It was as if you needed a time machine to know if they would survive.

I came this year hoping to see a few eco-things, like last year’s show. I am impressed at the commitment to looking at how automotive technology can be applied to our daily lives, beyond just vehicles.

The Chair of NAIAS said that the automotive community has evolved, adapted and is now fighting to direct a new normal – which appears to be energy efficient. No time machine necessary.

By Kerry Duggan, Program Advisor for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. blog.energy.gov