6 Coolest Green Auto Concepts for 2012

With stringent federal fuel efficiency laws looming on the horizon, combined with growing technology that is becoming increasingly affordable, every major automaker is currently selling or developing an eco-friendly vehicle. The 2012 environmental flagship models are not just electric vehicles (EV), hybrids and fuel cell vehicles (FCV). In fact, great strides are being made to improve the performance and productivity of diesel, gasoline, and natural gas vehicles as well.

In saluting its five finalists in the 2012 Green Car of the Year, the Green Car Journal notes that each manufacturer has taken a different approach to creating green vehicles. "This year's finalists underscore there is no single solution to our transportation challenges," notes Editor Ron Cogan. "We have five exceptional answers to the question of how we are going to increase efficiencies, reduce tailpipe and CO2 emissions, and decrease petroleum use. These unique approaches provide diverse choices as cars intelligently evolve toward a more environmentally compatible motoring future."

Most efforts focus on increasing gas mileage, reducing emissions, and assisting vehicles in driving more efficiently. Industry experts are touting 2012 as the year for auto technology thanks to some of these vehicular innovations:

  1. Urban Electric Vehicle Revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, the futuristic looking BMW electric i3 and the hybrid-electric i8 are being billed as the first urban cars to produce zero emissions. The electric powertrain achieves 112 mpge (miles per gallon equivalent) and can run for 62 miles on a single charge. The cars are equipped with rear-wheel drive and manufactured with lightweight, reinforced carbon fiber plastic. BMW plans to heavily promote its new concept cars during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. The i3 and i8, which start at $35,000, will have a limited world debut before the year ends.
  2. SkyActive Technology Recognized as the Best Innovation at the 2011 San Diego Auto Show in December, Mazda's SkyActive Technologies are generating considerable buzz. Launching as a completely new type of direct-injection gasoline and clean diesel engines, these highly efficient technologies achieve the industry's highest compression ratio of 14.0:1. The next-generation line also includes an automatic transmission and a compact manual transmission as well as a lightweight chassis and rigid body that achieved incredible crash safety ratings. The Demio, the first SkyActiv-equipped vehicle, was released in 2011 in Japan only. The new CX-5 crossover SUV with the SkyActive-G gas engine will debut in U.S. markets in March 2012, and Mazda expects to deliver the new Mazda 6 sedan with a SkyActive-D diesel engine to select markets by the end of the year.
  3. Four-Cylinder Engine The four-cylinder, internal combustion engine is undergoing some incredible revolutions in 2012. More than a dozen of the biggest brands in the business plan to release new eco-friendly technology built on a more powerful four-cylinder engine, including the Hyundai Veloster, Kia Rio, and BMW Z4 and 528. Most achieve around 40 mpg, require less fuel, and produce fewer emissions. The 2012 Buick LaCrosse and Buick Regal and the 2013 Chevy Malibu will include another new type of technology called eAssist. The hybrid-style powertrain is powered by a Li-ion battery pack. A 15-hp liquid-cooled motor/generator, which replaces the alternator, supports the engine, and serves as a regenerative brake.
  4. Natural Gas Natural gas vehicles received much-deserved recognition at the 2011 L.A. Auto Show when the Green Journal honored the Honda Civic Natural Gas as the 2012 Green Car of the Year. The only mass-produced natural gas passenger vehicle, the 2012 model marks the fifth generation of the internal combustion vehicle. With a $26,000 price point and a 48 mpg rating, the Civic is certified as the cleanest-running vehicle by the Environmental Protection Agency. Natural gas fuel is not only environmentally friendly, but it is also "almost exclusively domestically sourced and is typically priced 30 percent less than gasoline," Cogan said in a press statement.
  5. Clean Diesel Technology With clean diesel automobiles turning in an impressive 27.4 percent increase in sales throughout 2011, according to HybridCars.com, the technology is gaining momentum in America. Of the 9,658 diesel vehicles sold, Volkswagen has three contenders in the top five, including the Jetta, Passat, and Golf. The luxury BMW X5 and Mercedes ML320 SUVs also had notable sales. The clear winner, however, was the Mercedes E320, which had a 195 percent upsurge in sales from 2010.
  6. EV Charging Stations Several automakers, as well as solar energy companies, are investing in charging station infrastructures in an effort to encourage consumers to purchase EVs. Critics say the biggest concern for EV owners is not having refueling stations during long-distance trips. In early 2012, Nissan expects to expand its offerings of quick charge stations to the U.S., while Tesla Motors is offering free charging stations to loyal customers traveling between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Ford, General Motors, Daimler, Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, and Porsche are collectively supporting a universal fast charge infrastructure that will work with any brand's EV. The federal government is continuing its $7,500 tax incentive through 2012 for EV purchases, while California residents also benefit from a $1,500 state rebate.

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