Small is big at the Twin Cities Auto Show

I spent part of Monday afternoon wandering around the Twin Cities Auto Show with Robert Moffitt, media relations man for the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest.

The Lung Association is at the auto show with the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council to promote biodiesel vehicles, but we also surveyed a few of the other alternative fuel and fuel efficiency trends on display at the show, which runs through Sunday at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

A few observations:

Small is big. Or maybe hatchbacks are the new Hummer? Moffitt and I both happen to drive silver Honda Fits — compact, conventional-fueled hatchbacks that get excellent gas mileage. (My wife and I have topped 40 mpg on a couple of road trips.) Some of the most prominent, front-and-center display space at the auto show is dedicated to similar-sized vehicles, such as the Chevy Sonic, which is rated at 40 mpg highway:

The Chevy Sonic, one of several compact cars on display at the Twin Cities Auto Show.

EVs are real. The Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf aren’t new to the Twin Cities Auto Show, but this is the first year in which someone could actually leave the show and go buy one. The Leaf sits smack in the center of Nissan’s exhibit. It was the first time I’d seen one in person. Moffitt noted how strange it is to see a car with no gas hatch or tailpipe. Chevy has an exposed Volt on display so you can see what its insides look like.

The Nissan Leaf

What's inside the Chevy Volt?

Hybrids are normal. The concept of gas-electric hybrid vehicles is no longer exotic to people. Moffitt said based on questions and comments he heard in the auto show’s GreenRoom over the opening weekend, hybrids are seen as just another car, rather than an object of curiosity.

More variety: Drivers looking for a gas-electric hybrid have more choices. Toyota is expanding its Prius brand to include the minivan-sized Prius V and more compact version, the Prius C, which is on display at the auto show:

The Prius C

There’s also a $100,000 electric sports car, the Fisker Karma, on display:

Fisker Automotive's Karma

A place for biodiesel? A handful of diesel passenger vehicles, all of which can run on biodiesel, are on display at the show. The fuel has never been widely used for passenger vehicles in the United States, but Moffitt believes quieter, cleaner engines and rising gasoline prices might create a window for it to catch on. Audi and Volkwagon, which have led the way for diesel passenger vehicles, both have vehicles on display.

“I think the important thing is that there is no one solution,” says Moffitt.

The Twin Cities Auto Show is taking place now through Sunday at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

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