2011 Scion iQ at 2010 New York Auto Show, with Scion's Jack HollisEnlarge Photo
Well, it's done. The public are streaming in, and the two media preview days of the 2010 New York Auto Show are over.
It wasn't a hugely significant show, but clearly the apocalyptic meltdown that automakers were experiencing last year has lifted. Sales are starting to come back, slowly, and while they're still at just two-thirds the level of three years ago, there's no more free fall.
Beyond that, with the issuance of final 2012-2016 fuel-economy rules, automakers have a single clear set of standards they must meet, and they're already planning to do just that.
With the new era in mind, here's our take on the best and the worst among the growing number of green cars on display:
2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid at 2010 New York Auto Show at CEO John KrafcikEnlarge Photo
STRONGEST NEWCOMER: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
When Hyundai sets out to do something, they really go at it. Their first hybrid sedan boasts a lithium-ion battery pack, higher all-electric speeds, better fuel economy, and stronger performance than the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid, let alone the 2010 Toyota Camry Hybrid.
Among other things, Hyundai gets major points for giving its hybrid a distinctly different look than other Sonatas. While everything from the windshield back is pretty similar, all-new front sheet metal gives it a very different "face," and we think that's very, very smart.
On sale late this year, Hyundai's first U.S. hybrid promises to shake up the fast-growing hybrid sedan game that for so long belonged solely to the Camry Hybrid. We'll be eagerly badgering our contacts at Hyundai for our test drive.
2011 Chevrolet Cruze EcoEnlarge Photo
BEST CONVENTIONAL GREEN CAR: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco
While hybrids and electric cars get the most attention, the new 2012-2016 fuel economy requirements will largely be met by making existing gasoline engine technology better, and by using smaller, more efficient engines.
The 2011 Chevy Cruze Eco model is a good example of this. It uses a 1.4-liter direct-injected and turbocharged engine that puts out 138 horsepower, and delivers 40 miles per gallon on the highway when fitted with the six-speed manual transmission (an automatic is optional as well).
Notably, the Cruze Eco is based on the mid-range Cruze LT model, so you get decent standard equipment, including Chevy's trademark two-tone interior styling. It's far from the stripped down, bare-bones economy models that GM used to sell, and we think it'll do well.
But even if it doesn't, it gives Chevrolet the ability to tout that magical 40-mpg mark--just as Ford has proudly trumpeted its "300 horsepower and 31 mpg" tagline for the 2011 Mustang V-6, though our road testers got just 23 mpg during their drive.
2011 Scion iQ at 2010 New York Auto ShowEnlarge Photo
U.S. buyers historically just haven't warmed up to really, really small cars. Ten years ago, it was an eye-popping revelation to Detroit that tens of thousands of people a year would pay more than $20,000 for a Mini Cooper.
That car's BMW breeding, rollerskate handling, and cheeky image ensured it a place in buyers' hearts, and it's doing well even as its range has expanded. Then came the Smart ForTwo, a truly tiny two-seater whose sales peaked at 24,400 in 2008, when gasoline prices were at their highest, but have since fallen to a fraction of that.
So it's downright daring of Scion to offer its 10-foot-long iQ mini-car, which has some resemblance to the two-passenger Smart even though it holds three people plus a child, pet, or package in a fourth seat as well.
And it's even more daring for Scion exec Jack Hollis to quote projected sales: He expects to sell 1,700 to 2,000 iQ models a month, or up to 25,000 a year. We wish him luck.