Detroit Auto Show: 7 Green Moves to Watch

It’s that time again, when automakers haul their wares out to Detroit’s Cobo Convention Center for the North American International Auto Show. The annual event, which kicks off on Monday with two days of press previews, will include an array of concepts for more efficient and less polluting cars, including hybrids, plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles. For future hints of the green trends in the auto biz, here’s seven moves, models and announcements to watch for during this week’s show.

1. Ford Revs Start-Stop Tech for North America. Start-stop systems that automatically shut a car’s engine off when you come to a stop (conserving fuel), and quickly restart it when you hit the accelerator, have become commonplace in many hybrid vehicles. And in Europe, start-stop systems are frequently used in conventional cars — but not in the U.S.

Enter: Tighter fuel economy requirements for new cars and trucks starting with the 2012 model year, and hello, microhybrids. Ford (s F) plans to add start-stop technology to cars, SUVs and crossover vehicles in its North American lineup beginning in 2012, for fuel economy improvements of between 4-10 percent. This week in Detroit, the automaker will kick things off by featuring its patented Auto Start-Stop technology on a concept vehicle. Last week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Ford debuted its Ford Focus EV, and mobile smart car technology.

2. Heftier Plug-in from GM. For consumers who like the idea of the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt but want more room for passengers, GM may have just the thing at the Detroit Auto Show. The company is expected to unveil a “more refined” version of the Chevrolet Volt MPV5 concept vehicle that debuted last year at Beijing’s auto show.

3. North American Car of the Year: Will It Have a Plug? It wasn’t so long ago that the notion of plug-in vehicles being front-runners for an industry award like the North American Car of the Year would have seemed like a pipe dream. This year, two of out of the three finalists selected by automotive journalists are plug-ins. GM’s plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt and Nissan’s all-electric Leaf are competing against the Hyundai Sonata, which comes in three flavors: a 35 MPG standard sedan, a sportier turbo model, and a 37 MPG hybrid. The winner will be announced Jan. 10 at the Detroit Auto Show.

4. Porsche’s Spectacle: A Hybrid? After a 4-year hiatus, Porsche is returning to the Detroit show this year, and executives say the brand will debut something “spectacular.” Word on the virtual street is it will be a variation on the 918 Spyder hybrid.

5. Model S, in Alpha. Tesla Motors (s TSLA) plans to show off a so-called “alpha build” of its Model S sedan in Detroit. The company has so far assembled at least three of these hand-built, pre-production versions at its facility in Palo Alto for track testing and testing components and subsystems. For some Model S Alpha porn, see these videos.

6. BYD Back for More. The Warren Buffett-backed Chinese battery maker and vehicle developer BYD plans to pull the wraps off its 2012 e6 Premier electric model, as well as its plug-in hybrid S6DM. The company says it will also reveal the schedule for a long-planned (and delayed) U.S. launch of “green-technology vehicles and products.”

7. Toyota Prius Spawn. Fasten your seat-belts, Prius fans; Toyota’s about to take us on a ride into hybrid land, where there’s not just one Prius, but a whole family of them under a new Prius sub-brand. Toyota plans to unveil its long-discussed Prius family (including the current third-generation Prius and the Prius Plug-in Vehicle, as well as a new, larger model and a new Prius concept) on Jan. 10. You can check out the live webcast (scheduled for 1:05 p.m. EST) at

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Image courtesy of Patricia Drury.