Watch Out Prius: Honda’s Going Hybrid (while Chevy Wheezes) at the Detroit Auto Show


Amid whispers of a depression, the timing of last week’s CES gadget-show was awk-warrrrrd. But this week, it gets weirder, with the year’s biggest auto show, which opened yesterday in the Big Three’s backyard.

The 2009 North American International Auto Show, better known as the Detroit Auto Show, should have been a full-on assault on the Toyota Prius, the ultra-efficient hybrid that has been a darling in the market for the last couple years. But it hasn’t turned out that way: Detroit is jawing about electrics cars being introduced by 2012, while rushing to market with ultra-compacts that get 40mpg.

Leave it to Honda to show Detroit how it’s done. This year, they’re unveiling the relaunched Honda Insight. Not only will it get over 65mpg in the right conditions, it’ll be less than $20,000 (a couple thousand cheaper than the Prius). It’s not bad looking either–especially compared to the updated 2010 Prius, which, with a weirdly bumpy fascia manages to look like a 2009 Prius repaired with spare parts from Hyundai.

Meanwhile, perhaps the show’s most eagerly anticipated car is the Chevy Volt, a plug-in electric that’s supplemented at longer distances with a hybrid engine. Sure, it’ll get over 100mpg, but it’s insanely expensive: Even after a sweet-heart government subsidy of $7,500, it set you back almost $35,000. (GM says they’re planning for the future. If there is one.) Their PR buzz has also been sapped a bit: An obscure Chinese manufacturer will steal the trophy for the first plug-in electric car in production. But maybe the cruelest blow comes from Chevy itself, which managed to make a concept that looked like this:


Into a production model that looks like this:


As one observer noted: “electrifying bland.”