Detroit Car Show is Now Science Fair

Traditional automotive bragfest of bigger and better is evolving into a tournament of technology and green strategies.

Published: 16-Jan-2008

It's not a car show anymore. It's a science fair.

The Detroit auto show has traditionally been a manhood contest among carmakers trying to out-horsepower one another. But the geeks have taken over. Every manufacturer is boasting about green technology that will save the planet, displace petroleum, and delight customers. General Motors executives have been giving primers on ethanol chemistry and battery science. Chrysler announced its muscular Hemi V-8 engine will morph into a mannerly hybrid. Even Ferrari presented a car with "Bio Fuel" painted on the hood.

Hyperbole always dominates this annual bragfest, but this time the automakers have good reason to deliver on their promises. For one thing, $3 gas is starting to look permanent, raising the bounty for anybody who comes up with alternatives. The government has upped the ante by hiking gas-mileage standards, which will force automakers to seek technology breakthroughs. And the runaway success of hybrids like the Toyota Prius has converted the deepest skeptics—many of them from Detroit—into green gurus. Here are the trends that will shape the cars we buy over the next several years:

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