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2013 Chevrolet Spark Electric Vehicle) (MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)
2013 Chevrolet Spark Electric Vehicle) (MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)

Canadian International Auto Show

The end of boring: Auto industry has reinvented itself Add to ...

Here’s what the 2013 Toronto auto show – officially the Canadian International Auto Show, but who are we kidding with that grandiose title? – tells us about today’s auto world: the end of the boring, traditional, mainstream passenger car powered strictly by some sort of gas engine and dominated by the same old ossified auto makers is upon us. It’s taken the upheavals of the last decade to get here, but it’s happened. The auto industry has reinvented itself.

Don’t agree? I’ll make the case.

Or just slap on your most comfortable shoes and wander the seemingly endless halls of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre; your experiences will make my case for me. For every middle-of-the-road Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan – a perfectly good car and a perfectly uninteresting one, too – you’ll see a brand-new $20,000-something Chevy Spark EV with performance to make enthusiasts cry for joy – until they run out of battery power in about 100 km or so.

A decade ago, the idea of a pure EV priced in the mid-$20,000s – one actually entertaining to drive – was a fantasy. Chevy is not alone, either. Among the latest electric cars you’ll see are Cadillac’s 2014 ELR (a luxurious take on the Chevy Volt extended-range EV), the coming Honda Accord plug-in hybrid and more. Of course, they all share floor space with existing EVs such as the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Ford’s C-MAX Energi plug-in, Toyota’s Prius plug-in and Nissan’s Leaf, to name a few of the most prominent. EVs won’t make up a large chunk of the 1.7 million vehicles Canadians are expected to buy this year, but they’re here and they’re real.

As are normal gasoline-electric hybrids. A decade ago, the only hybrid on the Toronto show floor was the Prius. That was it. During all of 2003, DesRosiers Automotive Consultants tells us that Toyota Canada sold exactly 173 Prius liftbacks. Compare that to 2012, when Toyota Canada sold 20 times that (3,371) number of the basic Prius car – along with thousands and thousands more hybrids and plug-in hybrids of various shapes and sizes.

Toyota dominates hybrids, though others want a bigger piece of that action. Leading the pack: Ford Motor. As I wrote some time ago, Ford Motor wants to pound the “green” out of Toyota and is going to great lengths to tell us exactly how.

Ford touts fuel economy numbers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help make its case: the Fusion Energi (plug-in hybrid) Delivers 620-Mile Range, 21 in EV Mode. That, says Ford, is “nearly triple the electric-only range of the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid and double the Honda Accord plug-in hybrid.”

The final pitch: If you’re a U.S. buyer, you might save as much as “$6,850 in fuel costs compared with an average new car over the course of five years.” As Ford triumphantly points out, “J.D. Power says Ford now beats Toyota for leading fuel efficiency in every segment where both compete.”

Ford is joined by all sorts of other car companies in making a “green” push/pitch that has been driven by two major forces: first, consumer demand for lower fuel costs combined with an equally strong if not stronger belief that global warming is real – therefore the auto companies should launch vehicles that do something about it; and, second, government regulators years ago warned of coming fleet-wide fuel economy rules that go into effect in 2016, and they are nothing if not stringent.

This year’s Toronto show is a showcase for the technologies that drive fuel economy and lower, if not eliminate, tailpipe emissions entirely. BMW sells hybrids and downsized engines, and plans on launching a dedicated line of pure EVs soon. Mercedes-Benz sells hybrids and downsized engines which do the same, and without sacrificing performance. And Merc’s smart brand will bring a dedicated EV to Canada this year, too.

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