1. Fisker Karma (above) and Tesla Model S
We’re going to start off the list with a duo, both because these could prove to be two of the most important automobiles to come out in years and because fundamentally they are so similar. Both are seductive designs wrapped around technological marvels, built by small companies thinking very big. Both have been heavily teased and delayed for a variety of reasons, a reminder that in the end, both could very well fail to deliver on their lofty promise. But if the Karma and the Model S work, it could be a damning statement on the mainstream auto market that has been unable to produce attractive and competent fully-electric cars. If there are two cars that could lead the auto industry in a truly progressive direction, it will probably be the two little guys who didn’t listen when they were told it was impossible.
2. GMC Granite
This is an intriguing car because of its apparent contradictions, as an attractive but bullish-looking large crossover fitted to the Chevy Cruze platform and a turbocharged inline-4. In the past, this car would have been fitted with a massive gas-sucking engine and GMC would call it a day. The Granite shows that the company is hanging on to its image as a maker of spacious, bulletproof people-movers, but its advancements reveal a desire to experiment with smaller powerplants. Could there also be a pickup version on the way?
3. Jaguar C-X75
Ok, this might be cheating a little bit. The Jaguar C-X75 may never see the light of production, but still marks an important point for the automaker as they shift design and technology priorities. Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first: the C-X75 is the most beautiful modern car of at least the last few years. Those flawless curves, almond eyes and puckered lip; you just want to take it out to dinner. If the C-X75 never hits public roads, its design concepts may make it into future Jaguar products, and you won’t hear anyone complain about that. But the real innovation is in the car’s four electric motors, one driving each wheel. Those are backed up by twin-turbine gas motors that look like a jetpack (the car uses its own exhaust to feed the turbines). It would be great to see the 780-horsepower C-X75 end up in showrooms. It would be better to see its turbine technology harnessed into a clean and efficient powertrain for mass production across the industry.
4. Chrysler 200C EV
Two years after its surprising debut at the Detroit Auto Show in 2009, the electric Chrysler 200C EV remains on the shelf with no recent word on production possibilities. A gasoline-powered 200C is in showrooms and doing quite well for the company, receiving positive reviews, as one can expect when replacing the plastic-o-rama that was the Sebring (nowhere to go from there but up). The 200C works well as a statement of improved quality for Chrysler, but meanwhile the automaker still lags behind the field in fuel efficiency, and dead-last in innovation. The ENVI electric powertrain has been under development for several years and two years after the 200C EV debut it’s easy to assume that Chrysler has been resting on their laurels and not making this technology a priority.
5. Audi etron
Another in the recent line of concept cars that prove electrics and hybrids don’t have to look like refrigerators. Audi’s proposed line of electric vehicles took a giant leap forward with the recent announcement that the etron will reach showrooms in 2013. Much like the Porsche Panamera Hybrid, it would serve not only to sell itself but to introduce its alternative fuel technologies to different models across the brand. Rumor has it that parts of the etron will be used in a super-lightweight R8 and possibly even an electric Lamborghini model. For all the hybrid and electric car naysayers, this is how alternative fuel cars will make a true dent in the industry – not with one Golden Bullet model, but with introductory technologies that can be gradually perfected and spread across an automaker’s entire line of cars. Will the production etron be mid-engined? Will there be a roadster variant? Audi has limitless potential with its new darling.
6. Mercedes SLS E-Cell
It would seem that the SLS E-Cell from Mercedes follows a similar trajectory to the Audi etron; both are electric derivatives of best-selling supercars from German automotive superpowers. But the E-Cell’s future is more in doubt. Mercedes will produce the car by 2013, but it is unclear how much financial weight parent company Daimler will put into developing the whole electric range. Whatever the future holds, the E-Cell figures to hit an impressive 0-60mph in 4.0 seconds flat.
7. Infiniti Etherea
Infiniti is looking to court younger professionals with the design of the Etherea concept presented in Geneva a few weeks ago. While its looks will almost certainly be toned down before reaching production, it does give us a glimpse into the future line of Infiniti. The jury is still out on the styling; its certainly striking and aggressive, but that too-tall shoulder makes the front fascia look somewhat droopy. Melted, even. Everything from the G to M to FX series of cars could follow the precedent set here. As for the Etherea powertrain, a hybrid engine features a 245-horsepower supercharged four-cylinder. Again, it will be more interesting to see how – and if – Infiniti eases the technology across its entire line.
8. Saab PhoeniX
The longtime Saab slogan “Born From Jets” has been a little laughable in recent years, with handsome but certainly not flightworthy designs gracing the lineup. The company is looking to redefine itself in the midst of financial uncertainty and the PhoeniX concept from Geneva does a lot to return Saab to its roots. The space-age 2+2 sports an aggressive stance and impressive all-wheel drive hybrid technology. Barring a miracle, this car will never see the light of day, but its parts will. The styling and platform could eek into the upcoming 9-3 and other models, while the AWD hybrid system may breathe life into the Swedish automaker, after all.
PhoeniX HermesEnlarge Photo
9. Mitsubishi Evo Hybrid?
You can file this one under “Wishful Thinking,” too. Mitsubishi seems to have no idea what to do with the future Evo. First it was off. Then it was back on. Maybe as a hybrid? Tuners everywhere shuddered. But if the options are hybrid Evo, or no Evo, which way do you turn? The decision that Mitsubishi makes will have lasting effects on the entire line, because the Evo-based Lancer is one of their best-sellers. Ok, that still doesn’t equate to many overall sales, but Mitsubishi is counting blessings at this point. Kill the Evo, then don’t you also kill the Lancer? One possible answer could be updating the Evo traditionally, and including an AWD hybrid powertrain as an optional trim. If that happens, Mitsubishi may spread that technology to hybridize the FWD Lancer and rest of the line.
10. BMW i8
This entry into the electric supercar genre will is the haymaker of the group that includes the etron and E-Cell. The i8 is based on the EfficientDynamics concept of recent years and will join the i3 in the BMW line of electric vehicles. Expect to see both in 2013, when we’ll find out much more about the batteries and other technologies in both cars. The i8 has set impressive performance benchmarks for itself, with an electric motor attached to either a gas or diesel engine. Expect it to be extremely lightweight and aerodynamic (moreso) to offset any emissions produced from the engine. The i8 will represent all of BMW’s technological know-how and likely become the new face of the brand.
You can follow Ryan ZumMallen on Twitter at @ryanzummallen.