Not only was 2014 a great year for sports concepts, it was a great year for green cars. Environmentally friendly production cars like the Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicle and Volkswagen Golf GTE made their debuts and numerous concepts provided a window into a cleaner commuting future, showcasing technologies that will get us from point A to point B without so much impact on the rest of the alphabet. Here are our favorite green concept cars from the year.
10. Mercedes-Benz Vision G-Code
One of the more fanciful green concepts of the year, the Mercedes Vision G-Code was a collaboration between Mercedes' Chinese and German design teams, penned to showcase new Sports Utility Coupé design language as well as forward-looking green technology. The purple-highlighted "SUC" uses a conceptual hybrid powertrain consisting of a front-mounted, hydrogen-fueled turbo engine and rear electric motor. The traditional brake regeneration and plug-in charging systems are assisted by "multi-voltaic silver" paint, which harvests energy from the sun and wind, and a generator connected to the suspension system.
Mercedes makes it quite clear that the concept is more fantasy than R&D reality, saying: "The technical visions in the G-Code clearly incorporate quite fantastical aspects and by no means raise the claim of wanting to pave the way for specific future technologies to enter into mass production, unlike the research vehicles from Mercedes-Benz. But the G-Code describes ways that our grandchildren might one day consider the state of the art."
It would be easy to dismiss the G-Code as pie-in-the-sky science fiction after that statement, but the concept is the embodiment of a very real direction that electric-car research is taking. Some manufacturers and research entities feel that integrating energy storage into the vehicle's body shell will be a practical way of boosting capacity and range. Most recently, the Queensland University of Technology showed its body panel-integrated supercapacitors, and Volvo detailed similar ideas last year. It may not come in the form of "sun 'n wind" paint, but it seems that one day the car's body could be part of its energy storage architecture.
9. Citroën C4 Cactus Airflow
PSA Peugeot Citroën's Hybrid Air technology was one of our favorite green concepts of 2013. In 2014, this gas/compressed air powertrain teamed up with a host of aerodynamic improvements to create the Citroën C4 Cactus Airflow, which debuted at the Paris Motor Show.
Outfitted with bright accents and labels pointing out the aerodynamic upgrades, the Airflow concept uses active components like the shuttered Air Curtain wheels, adjustable front intakes and mobile air deflectors, along with fixed elements like the front bumper intakes, smooth underbody, extended rear spoiler and rear air extractor. With the help of the Hybrid Air powertrain, 220-lb (100-kg) weight loss and ultra-low rolling resistance tires, these aero solutions result in an estimated fuel economy of 2L/100km (117 US mpg).
8. Hyundai Intrado
Hyundai's biggest fuel cell statement of the year came with the launch of the Tucson Fuel Cell, but we're more excited about the next generation of its fuel cell SUVs. Revealed at the Geneva Motor Show, the Intrado shows a vision of a lightweight, aircraft-inspired fuel cell vehicle. The design relies on a carbon fiber frame for its foundation, with a suit of super-lightweight steel and a minimalistic, purpose-driven interior planted on top. That lightweight design allows the next-generation hydrogen fuel cell powertrain to stretch its legs for up to 373 miles (600 km) per fill-up, a marked improvement over the Tucson's 265 mile (426 km) range.
In terms of styling, chief design officer Peter Schreyer's debut isn't for everyone, but we like its clamp-like wheel arches, rounded hatchback and bushy sideburns. We're not sure that we'd choose to buy it over more subtle crossovers, but it did look good in Geneva.
7. Audi TT offroad
A different look for a green car (or any car really), the Audi TT offroad concept from this year's Beijing Motor Show uses its plug-in hybrid powertrain for a combination of on-road efficiency and off-road fun. To meet the challenges of the latter, Audi raised the concept's ground clearance and shortened up the overhangs. The concept features a 408-hp hybrid powertrain with a front-mounted 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder, rear-mounted motor and six-speed e‑S tronic transmission with integrated motor. Numbers like 0-62 mph (100 km/h) in 5.2 seconds, 123.8 mpg (1.9 L/100 km) and 31 miles (50 km) of all-electric range highlight its versatility.
In addition to a clean powertrain and off-road-aimed design, the TT offroad also shows off new technologies. The owner can forgo the hard plug should he or she choose, opting to charge the 12-kWh lithium-ion battery pack with the integrated wireless charging hardware. The concept also features intelligent intersection and traffic light monitoring systems. The driver stays engaged with Audi's virtual cockpit, while a trio of Audi Smart Display tablets gives passengers plenty to do on long rides.
6. Kia Optima T-Hybrid concept
At Paris, Kia joined the ranks of automakers intent on showing that "green" driving doesn't have to be "dull" driving. Its Kia Optima T-Hybrid features an electric supercharger that, in conjunction with a traditional turbocharger, adds both power and efficiency to the car's 1.7-liter CRDi turbo diesel inline four. The T-Hybrid's powertrain, which includes a mild hybrid drive backed by a 48-volt electrical system and zero-emissions stop-start system, is still under development, but Kia believes it could cut CO2 emissions below 100 g/km (from 128), boost fuel economy to 56 mpg (from 48), add 15 to 20 percent more power, and cut over a second off the Optima's 0-62 mph (100 km/h) time. That sounds like all win.
Kia wasn't the only automaker to show its work on electric forced air during the course of 2014; Audi also showed such a system on its RS 5 TDI concept.
5. Meyers Manx V
Interestingly enough, 2014 saw the debut of not one, but two sand-hungry electric dune buggies: the Manx V and the Venturi 407. Both are cool, eye-catching designs, but we have to give it to the Manx V on the 50th anniversary of Bruce Meyers' game-changing Meyers Manx buggy, a design that was one of the first to be included on the National Historic Vehicle Register. During its anniversary celebration, Meyers Manx Inc. debuted the Manx V, an all-electric buggy prototype with a classically influenced Manx tub powered with an 84-hp electric motor and 10-kWh lithium-iron manganese battery. The V includes a welded steel frame, unequal length A-arm front and rear suspension with coilover shocks, rack and pinion steering, an 8.55:1 rear axle ratio, and a rear regenerative braking system.
Meyers Manx plans to market the Manx V as either a kit car or a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) depending on local regulations.
4. Nanoflowcell Quant e-Sportlimousine
With gaudy numbers like 912 hp and 236 mph (380 km/h) , the Nanoflowcell Quant e-Sportlimousine was a candidate for our best sports car list, where it would have felt quite at home wedged between the Lamborghini Asterion plug-in hybrid and Volkswagen XL1. However, unlike those cars, the e-Sportlimousine showcases an all-new powertrain technology with loads of potential for eco-friendly commuter cars.
Debuted in Geneva, the concept car uses unique design language and crazy performance estimates to bring the story of Nanoflowcell's flow battery technology to life. Using a special formulation of ionically charged electrolytes and a power cell, the Swiss company believes that it can deliver 249 to 373 mile (400 to 600 km) driving ranges with fill-ups about as quick and easy as pumping gas. The concept car features supercapacitors for storing and releasing the electricity and four motors for an all-wheel drive that can allegedly deliver the driver to 62 mph (100 km/h) in just 2.8 seconds.
If all those numbers sound too good to be true, we're going to have to agree – at least until Nanoflowcell has something more concrete than a fancy show car and buzzword-filled presentation. Still, the e-Sportlimousine certainly gets us thinking about the future of an entirely different alternative powertrain technology ... exactly what a forward-looking green concept car should do.
3. FOMM Concept One
An entirely different kind of green concept car, the Concept One from First One Mile Mobility (FOMM) earns its place on the list for sheer originality. Its green credentials come from its small electric city car build, but the real interesting part of the concept is its semi-amphibious capabilities. Unlike fully amphibious vehicles, the four-seat Concept One isn't designed to jump into a lake and troll around on a regular basis. Instead, its amphibious systems are aimed solely at emergency use, specifically for floating through flood zones caused by natural disasters like Japan's devastating 2011 tsunami. After the flood waters part, the owner will need to service the vehicle to get it back into everyday working order.
Two front 5-kW electric motors team up to deliver a driving range of 62 miles (100 km) and city-friendly top speed of 31 mph (50 km/h). In water, the tire treads and bladed wheels push the car forward. FOMM is still in the prototype stages and hopes to market the car in Thailand's flood zones as early as next year.
2. Audi A7 Sportback h-tron
While other fuel cell concepts of 2014 – take the Toyota Fuel Cell Sedan and Honda FCV (please) – are, shall we say, acquired tastes, the A7 h-tron quattro from last month's LA Auto Show demonstrates that fuel cell cars can be both efficient and pretty. Audi wired a fuel cell stack and 8.8-kWh lithium-ion battery into its A7 sportback, making a stylish fuel cell luxury plug-in. The "first performance fuel cell vehicle" gets close to 350 miles (563 km) from the electric power delivered via its 300 fuel cells and battery pack, offering a double serving of eco-friendly driving. The 228-hp AWD A7 h-tron won't put up much of a race against an ICE-powered A7, but its 7.9-second 0-62 mph (100 km/h) and 112 mph (180 km/h) top speed aren't shabby for a car that exhales only water vapor.
Alas, Audi has not said exactly when (or at what price) it plans to start putting keys in customers' hands, stating only that the technology is there whenever the "market and infrastructure are ready."
1. Renault EOLAB
The Renault EOLAB is a green concept designed to show how simple, realistic measures can combine to create huge fuel economy gains. The Paris show car reaches an estimated 235 mpg (1 L/100km) fuel economy by way of about 100 weight-saving, aerodynamics and powertrain-shrinking strategies. Specific examples include a steel/aluminum/thermoplastic/magnesium body shell, stripped down interior, and active, aero-optimizing air suspension system. The concept car is powered by a Z.E. Hybrid powertrain with a 75-hp three-cylinder engine and 40-kW electric motor. It weighs some 882 pounds (400 kg) less than the similarly sized Renault Clio.
Renault plans to introduce the EOLAB strategies into production gradually over the next decade or so, leading up to a production model based on the EOLAB concept.