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New Prius gets 50 mpg -- and the solar roof rumors are true

Hyundai Genesis is North American car of the year; Fisker is on track with a high-performance hybrid.

January 13, 2009|Ken Bensinger; and Martin Zimmerman; Dan Neil

DETROIT — News and notes from the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Monday:

Toyota Motor Corp. finally lifted the veil on its completely redesigned Prius. The big news: 50 miles per gallon.

Spy shots leaked not long ago, but Toyota's Bob Carter, group division head and general manager, did titillate the standing-room-only audience with a few details about the new vehicle, due out in the U.S. and Japan this spring.

Carter said the third-generation Prius would beat its predecessor by 4 mpg, a 9% improvement in fuel economy, thanks to a more-efficient engine and smaller, lighter components. At the same time, this Prius ups the engine-only juice to 98 horsepower thanks to a new, 1.8-liter four-pot. The combined electric/internal-combustion hybrid potency is up to 134 horsepower (the second-gen Prius pumps out 76 hp and 110 hp, respectively).

Rumors of a solar-roof option proved to be true, but not as people had imagined. Instead of a solar-powered air conditioning system, the new Prius has a solar-powered ventilation system. Carter explained that this would take some of the load off the air-conditioner by pre-cooling the interior of the car on hot days.

Genesis named car of the year

The Hyundai Genesis was named 2009 North American car of the year at the auto show while Ford's redesigned F-150 pickup took home top honors in the truck category.

The win by the Genesis, Hyundai's top-of-the-line sedan, marked the first time a South Korean automaker had won the award since it was launched in 1994. It was the fifth truck-of-the-year award for Ford and the third for the F-150.

The Genesis barely beat the Ford Flex, receiving 189 points from the judges versus 180 for the Flex. The third-place finisher, the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, received 131 points.

The F-150, in contrast, blew away the truck competition, getting 259 points versus 167 points for the Dodge Ram pickup and 74 for the Mercedes-Benz ML320 Blue TEC sport utility vehicle.

The annual car- and truck-of-the-year awards carry some weight in the automotive community because they are presented by a panel of 50 journalists from television, radio, newspapers and magazines. That's a broader base of opinion than underpins many of the other automotive "best of" awards doled out each year.

-- Martin Zimmerman

Fisker buzzing over its hybrid

The dour mood in Detroit notwithstanding, confidence was soaring over at the Fisker Automotive stand.

According to company officials, Fisker is on track to begin serial production of the Fisker Karma -- a high-performance, range-extended electric (aka a plug-in hybrid) -- in May 2010, with annual production targeted at 1,200 per month. The car will be built in Finland by Valmet, a well-known high-end coach builder.

To underscore the company's lust for life, it unveiled a retractable hardtop version of the Karma, called the Karma S. (The S stands for "sunset.") It's essentially the same car with a wheelbase that's 250 millimeters shorter. Production is tentatively slated to begin in mid-2011.

The price tag for the nonconvertible Karma: $87,900, on sale before the end of 2010.

-- Dan Neil

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