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November 8, 2009

News & Features

Tech boom: The Seattle Auto Show will highlight a surge in eco-friendly technology

Special to NWautos

Fisker Karma

The show will display a Fisker Karma, one of only four on the planet. (Tesla)

The upheaval in the auto world has never been more dramatic than in the past 18 months.

Jim Hammond should know. He has been the director of the Seattle Auto Show since 1973, and he's seen his share of flashy cars, redesigns and fancy marketing.

But this year is different. "This is the beginning of a whole new world of technology," he says. "Manufacturers have heard and understood what the public demanded."

That demand was for fuel-efficient advances in cars and trucks. And this year's Seattle Auto Show, which opens Wednesday at Qwest Field Event Center, will feature a wide variety of "green" innovations appearing for the first time. For example:

-- The Tesla Roadster is faster than a Porsche and more fuel-efficient than a Prius. The sleek roadster, which is powered by 6,831 laptop batteries, can hit 60 mph in less than four seconds. On top of that, it can travel 220 miles on a single charge while producing zero tailpipe emissions.

-- The Fisker Karma that will be on display is one of only four on the planet. The stylish plug-in hybrid -- produced by Henrik Fisker, a former design director at Aston Martin -- can achieve 100 mpg, and drivers who commute fewer than 50 miles per day will need to fill the gas tank only once a year.

-- Arcimoto, based in Eugene, Ore., has priced its goofy-looking Pulse under $20,000. The three-wheeler is estimated to save $1,000 per year in fuel costs and has a range of 50-100 miles on a single charge.

Every major manufacturer will have at least two new hybrids on display, Hammond says, with models ranging from sports cars to vans.

Several small start-up companies also will be showing off their technology at this year's show. Wheego is marketing a tiny, inexpensive battery-powered two-seater called the Whip, designed for driving short distances. Pacific Northwest company Pacific EV will show drivers how they can transform gas-guzzling cars into electric vehicles.

If you go
  • The Seattle Auto Show takes place at Qwest Field Event Center.
  • Hours:
  • Wednesday-Friday, 1 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
  • Sunday, Nov. 15, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Prices:
  • Adults $11, seniors $9, children 12 and younger free.

Automakers are hoping that the many subtle innovations on display at the five-day show will appeal to Seattle's eco-conscious buyers.

The third-generation Toyota Prius has an optional solar roof that powers the air conditioning. The Dodge Ram 1500 and Porsche Panamera feature technology that reduces fuel consumption by cutting gas to the engine when the vehicle is decelerating or stopped.

Honda and Ford are attempting to increase fuel efficiency by changing driving habits. The Insight and Fusion display feedback on the dash that shows drivers how fuel-efficient they are when accelerating and braking. Graphics provide video-game-style feedback, track statistics over time and reward drivers with tiers of recognition.

The automotive industry is full of rapid change, Hammond says, as auto manufacturers have realized that they need to adapt. The cars and technology at this year's show could be Seattle's first glimpse at those adaptations and advances that will alter the face of automobiles for years to come.

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