At this year’s New England International Auto Show, hybrids will turn up the heat on a class of cars known more for efficiency than excitement.
While gas-electric models from Toyota and Honda continue to dominate, new American and German hybrids are promising more power, and in some cases, even greater fuel savings.
At least 25 alternative-fuel cars, ranging from diesels to full electrics, will be on display at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, starting Thursday afternoon as the show gets underway.
One car, Ford’s Fusion Energi, a plug-in hybrid, is estimated to deliver 21 miles of traveling on electricity before its gas engine has to kick in — nearly double the range of the Prius plug-in that debuted last year.
It will compete with the Chevrolet Volt, last year’s most popular plug-in, with more than 23,000 sold.
At least 16 hybrids are new for the 2013 model year, and market share, including all-electric vehicles, is expected to increase to 5 percent from 3.3 percent in 2012, according to WardsAuto, an industry tracking firm. But given the volatility of gasoline prices — last year they hit a record average of $3.62 per gallon nationwide, according to the Energy Information Administration — that number could rise significantly in coming years.
Ford has four more hybrids on display in Boston this year, including a brand-new Lincoln MKZ Hybrid the company hopes will reignite its luxury division. The Ford Fusion and C-MAX hybrids, rated at 47 miles per gallon in both city and highway tests, trump Toyota Camry Hybrid and Prius v mileage by a significant margin. But the EPA is investigating those claims following a lawsuit and complaints from owners that the EPA estimates were too high.
German automakers, once reluctant to sell hybrids alongside their diesel models, are enthusiastically adding them to the lineups.
Volkswagen’s Jetta Hybrid, a relative value starting at under $26,000, promises sharp handling, a turbocharged engine, and up to 45 combined miles per gallon.
The BMW ActiveHybrid 3 and Mercedes E400 Hybrid serve up speed and luxury and save some fuel along the way.
Improving hybrid technology isn’t limited to batteries.
Toyota’s new luxury models, the Avalon Hybrid and Lexus ES 300h, have touch-sensitive climate controls and a wireless charging dock for smartphones. The most striking hybrid, the plug-in Cadillac ELR, which debuted Tuesday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, has a driver’s seat that vibrates if the car senses a collision.
The swell of new hybrids marks a resurgent auto industry, one on track to sell 15.4 million cars in the United States this year, industry watcher R.L. Polk said.
In 2012, sales reached a five-year high of 14.4 million, with seven automakers posting record numbers and all but two — Mitsubishi and Suzuki, which is exiting the US market — posting year-over-year increases. By contrast, nearly 17 million cars were sold in 2005.
In Massachusetts, sales increased about 5 percent last year to roughly 260,000 cars, said Robert O’Koniewski, executive vice president of the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association. Chrysler was the only domestic automaker to sell more cars in Massachusetts; Toyota and Honda rose by 19 and 10 percent, respectively. Toyota posted record sales in New England, excluding Connecticut, despite issuing more recalls and agreeing to a $1.1 billion settlement related to its widely publicized 2009 and 2010 recalls.
“The bond between our dealers and our customers is pretty tight,” said Cooper Ericksen, Toyota’s general manager in the Boston region. “A lot of the things that you hear about I don’t think play out at the dealership-to-customer level.”
Even as Americans are holding on to cars longer than ever — the average age is 11 years old — major technological strides may make drivers reconsider their rides, said John Paul, public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England.
“People are starting to look at those [new] cars and look at the combination of improved safety and fuel economy and low interest loans, and think maybe it is time to shop for a new car,” Paul said.
The auto show isn’t all about practical decisions. As usual, there will be plenty of room in the exhibition hall for fantasy drives. For instance, the exotic Fisker Karma, a $100,000 plug-in hybrid with 22-inch wheels, is being displayed for the first time, as are several gas-only supercars, such as the McLaren MP4-12C. Gleaming Italian and British luxury cars are in Boston this week, too.
But don’t plan on getting too close: The high-end vehicles will be kept behind velvet ropes.