green cars out on top

Like steroid-pumping weightlifters at an academic dinner party, the traditional auto show muscle car stars are looking more than a little out of place. At least that’s the report from the 2009 Canadian International Auto Show.
This is the kind of event where auto makers roll out their flashiest new concept vehicles, dream cars that set their corporate visions and the future of the industry itself. These so-called ‘Halo’ cars have almost always been sleek, expensive powerhouses of performance, such as the Dodge Viper. (The fact that Chrysler’s biggest selling model in the 1990s was the K-car-based minivan didn’t seem to faze the executives. It was Detroit’s take on an exotic Italian sports car that they used to try and impress the world.) Take a look at the Viper commercial circa 2000. It screams and roars through a steaming black-lava landscape to a remixed 1960’s rock anthem. The whole thing looks like a sad post-global-warming remake of The Road Warrior.
This all seems like ancient history since the recent global recession and last summer’s oil price spike. Yet it was just 5 years ago that industry visionaries like GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz and Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn were dismissing hybrid cars as expensive money losers. And as recently as 2007, GM’s auto show penis-replacements included two 300 horsepower Buicks and a Hummer H3 with a V-8 engine packed under the hood.
In the meantime, Prius has sold over a million units, changing the way the world looks at hybrids and putting a whole new face on Toyota. Now, Lutz proudly states that “The electrification of the automobile is absolutely a foregone conclusion,” obviously with desperate hope that the much-heralded Chevy Volt will save his company.
So who are the new belles of the ball? The Volt will be there, and so will a new more powerful and more efficient Prius. Honda’s Insight, expected to be the least expensive production hybrid in North America, will get its local debut, too. Honda will also have a hydrogen-powered concept car on hand, BMW its 7-Series ActiveHybrid, and Mitsubishi its i-MieV electric concept car. Take a look at some of them here.
For auto marketers and ad creatives, it will be a chance to look past the old toolbox of shuddering rack-focus performance shots, lone cars screaming through the salt flats and the tired tachometer close-up. Car buyers are looking for a different kind of excitement from the car companies. In the face of a recession, a green message may be the only thing that saves Detroit from the auto-wrecker of history.

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