Top 10 green concept cars of 2013


December 11, 2013

Gizmag takes a look at our favorite eco-friendly concept cars from the past 12 months

Gizmag takes a look at our favorite eco-friendly concept cars from the past 12 months

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As we wind down toward the end of another year, it's time to take a look back at some of the innovations that helped make 2013 a big year for green car technology. Highly anticipated cars like the Porsche 918 Spyder and Cadillac ELR made their debuts, while green concept cars provided a peek at what the future holds. Our favorite eco-friendly concepts from the past 12 months rethink power technologies, aerodynamics and architecture to push fuel economies into the triple digits.

Peugeot Hybrid Air

One of the earliest green concepts of 2013, the Peugeot Hybrid Air was also one of the most interesting. Putting a different spin on hybrid technology, the powetrain uses a long, tubular compressed air tank in place of batteries for energy storage. That air tank powers a hydraulic motor-pump, which assists a gas engine in three modes: zero-emissions, air-powered driving, hybrid, and engine-only. The motor-pump recovers air energy during braking and deceleration, refilling the air tank. The French automaker estimates that the powertrain is capable of 2.9 l/100 km (81 mpg) and CO2 emissions of around 69 g/km.

In addition to detailing the layout of the powertrain in January, Peugeot Citroën revealed the Hybrid Air-powered Citroën Cactus concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. It plans to bring the technology out of its research facilities and into B-segment production cars by 2016.

VW CrossBlue Coupe

The CrossBlue Coupe made several appearances throughout the year, leading folks to speculate that Volkswagen is serious about ushering it to the market. The plug-in hybrid concept seamlessly combines fuel economy, SUV utility and zippy performance.

Volkswagen's latest specs give the CrossBlue Coupe – which really abuses the term "coupe" – 13 miles (21 km) of all-electric driving from two motors. When those motors team with the turbo V6 engine, they put out 415 horses, which inspire a 5.8-second 0-60 mph (96.5 km/h) time. VW estimates that the powertrain is capable of around 70 mpg-e and up to 570 miles (917 km/h) of range.

The CrossBlue is based on Volkswagen's new Modular Transverse Matrix and could be outfitted with various six- and four-cylinder engines, including diesel and compressed natural gas options. We won't be surprised if we hear a lot more about the concept in 2014.

The Elio

The Elio from Louisiana start-up Elio Motors doesn't use any type of alternative power. Instead, it uses a unique design and a small, fuel-sipping three-cylinder engine to get up to 84 mpg (2.8 l/100 km). That combination also powers the narrow three-wheeler to a respectable top speed of more than 100 mph (161 km/h) and a range of up to 672 total miles (1,081 km).

As a three-wheeled vehicle, the Elio faces some regulatory hurdles before it's available for regular use. Elio has had success in getting some US states to recognize it as a separate class of vehicle, but others apply motorcycle regulations to three-wheeled vehicles. Elio is working with the intent of launching the car in the fourth quarter of 2014 and is still quoting a price under US$7,000.


Maybe it's just that we've come to expect hybrids to come in compact and subcompact packages, but it was nice to see something completely different at the 2013 North American International Auto Show. That something was the VIA Motors XTRUX, a large GM pickup truck with a range-extending 4WD powertrain.

Instead of replacing the pickup truck's V8 engine, Utah's VIA Motors puts it to work as a gas-fueled range extender. Driving the wheels are two 402-hp electric motors. The XTRUX has the power and capability of a big, burley truck, the instant torque of an electric, and the range of a gas truck. VIA says that it can get up to 40 miles (64 km) of all-electric driving and average 100 mpg-e.

The XTRUX's fate remains unclear, but VIA launched other range-extending pickup trucks and vans last month. Those models use a single 402-hp motor along with a V8 engine purposed as a range-extending generator.

Yaris Hybrid R

Toyota's Yaris Hybrid R concept is a stretch of the term "green," but it is an interesting look at how hybrid technology can turn a car as mundane as the Yaris into a quick, aggressive track car. The Toyota Yaris Hybrid R debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show equipped with trickled-down racing technology. Instead of the usual lithium battery pack, the hybrid hot hatch has a super capacitor to power its two rear-mounted 60-hp electric motors. The motors assist the 300-hp turbo four-cylinder engine in delivering quick, lively AWD acceleration, and the driver controls their output with a dual-mode track/road system. The hybrid system can also alter torque to the rear wheels, providing enhanced cornering and control.

Buick Riviera

During the course of the year, GM gave Cadillac Volt-like plug-in hybrid technology in Detroit and showed what a future Buick plug-in might look like in Shanghai. While the Riviera concept, and its glacial-blue lighting and white-leather cockpit, was clearly built as a showpiece only, the technological ideas it presents may just underpin future models. Those ideas include a wireless plug-in hybrid system with a chassis-integrated recharge panel, integrated 4G connectivity and car-to-car communications.

Outside of those basic details, Buick was rather vague about the Riviera's equipment, focusing more on its design language. The concept car might influence future styling and technology, but we don't anticipate it showing up as a Buick model.

Daihatsu FC Deco Deck

Fuel cells climbed out of the shadows a little during the year, with several major manufacturers preparing for the next generation of fuel cell technology. Daihatsu showed one of the most interesting fuel cell concepts in the form of the FC Deco Deck from Tokyo. Daihatsu's liquid fuel cell eliminates the platinum used in other fuel cells, saving money and resources. It's compact enough to slide under the floor, adding space and flexibility.

The FC Deco Deck uses big visuals to advertise its big technology: a cubed cabin with wraparound-glass is planted atop a rectangular trailer chassis.

Toyota i-Road

Part tandem, three-wheeled car, part enclosed trike, the Toyota i-Road is all innovation. Toyota debuted the vehicle at the Geneva Motor Show, solving the naming dilemma with the simple term "Personal Mobility Vehicle." The design offers a narrow footprint and maneuverability comparable to a two-wheeler, with a safer, more comfortable, more weatherproof driving experience. It's powered by dual 2.7-hp front-wheel electric motors.

We came out of Geneva thinking the i-Road was a crazy concept that might never be seen again, but Toyota said in September that it plans to build a limited number of i-Roads for use in its Harmonious Mobility Network trials in Toyota City, Japan beginning early next year.

Mitsubishi Concept GR-HEV

From its sleek, modernized pickup car form to its diesel-hybrid powertrain, the Mitsubishi Concept GR-HEV is a future look that we want to drive right now. The Geneva-debuted concept is powered by a 2.5-liter diesel engine and electric motors, which work with a full-time 4WD system. Mitsubishi claims that the concept puffs out just 149 g/km while cruising from city to worksite.

Mitsubishi didn't say whether or not Geneva was a stop on the way toward GR-HEV production, but the concept was one of several hybrid and electric concepts that Mitsubishi showed in Geneva and Tokyo, so we anticipate more electric power in its future line-up.

Nissan BladeGlider

One of the most intriguing concepts of 2013 from every angle, the Nissan BladeGlider reteaches everything we thought we learned about car design. Nissan's design team wiped the slate clean and drew influence from aircraft and racers like the ZEOD RC to design a new type of street car. That car is a rolling triangle with a 1-m (3.3-ft) front track and widened rear track, a platform that delivers superior aerodynamic performance and increased maneuverability. The car's unique shape and CFRP construction allow the RWD, in-wheel electric powertrain to deliver an efficient but exhilarating ride.

During its Tokyo debut, the BladeGlider's future seemed optimistic. Nissan used language like "when BladeGlider matures into a production car" and "exploratory prototype of an upcoming production vehicle." Later in the month, however, the design became the subject of a lawsuit filed by Nissan's DeltaWing partner Delta Wing Project 56, throwing its future in doubt.

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work. All articles by C.C. Weiss

Electric motor assist is always good for the simplicity of it, and for the huge torque available at low RPM. It is essentially the poor man's supercharger, and will be used to great effect in creating some really amazing road rockets in times to come.

For the short term, success for hybrids will come to those designs that are affordable but don't radically change the behavior of the driver in the negative. 200mpg might be acceptable, but if you can't go on a freeway due to poor acceleration or limited top speed then you have a fail.

Similarly the appearance of the vehicle, (a topic discussed many times before) where designers are hell bent on making a hybrid look radically different from a normal car. If you expect people to accept a new technology under the hood and they have reservations (because of the often higher price tag), then you don't make it pink and put shark fins on it and say this is what you will drive. You give them a normal looking sedan or family car and ease them into it.

For the ideas and designs above, I like the hybrid air. I'm just curious how they absorb and recover the heat generated from compressing the air. Or possibly they may not. But this is an example to me of a normal looking car using sustainable technology (non rare earth, simple steel construction) to provide hybrid functionality. And its safer then LiPo, acid or hydrogen. Only deficiency being the density of energy possible before the pressure requirements are too high to do it safely.


As one can clearly see from the brand signs on the hubcaps, the Peugeot Hybrid Air is not a Peugeot but a Citroen. Although Peugeot aquired Citroen in the mid 1970's, both brands are run quite separately. The conpany which stands for both brands is known as PSA. Just recently PSA started a cooperation with GM and has announced three different car projects which will be built in Europe. As far as I know PSA also seeks cooperation with GM on the field of electric mobility.

Frank Kemper

While the torque availability is nice in electric motors the need for rare earth elements and cost is strongly negative. Pneumatic or flywheel energy storage can store energy faster at lower cost and 2 counter rotating flywheels can provide gyroscopic stabilization that make 2 or even 1 wheel cars workable.


I think the Elio is not only cool and green but affordable, even if they sell for about $9,000.00. I hope they succede in getting it made. One can reserve one.


The world does not need hybrids that still use fossil fuels, but new clean energy consuming vehicles.

Frik Linde

The Messerscmidt (sp). From back in the 60's had three wheels. A teacher at my high school drove one and sometimes the kids would pick it up and hide it behind the bushes. I assume it was made by the same company that made the ME109, bane to the B17's and the RAF. Maybe they had the clout to have it be street legal here. We know they never really lost their power or influence.

Ed temple

I agree with Nairda and Slowburn. The hybrid air concept is better in that it eliminates the need for rare earths used in the motors and needs no batteries, which have a number of environmental issues that are added to the problem of fossil fuel use. Hope it's successful in the marketplace and other makers see the advantage and jump on the bandwagon.

Neil Larkins

In the Nissan BladeGlider's article, "the design became the subject of a lawsuit filed by Nissan's DeltaWing partner Delta Wing Project 56", statement... is ridiculous. When I was a kid, 40+ years ago, we all built "cars" out of what ever we could savage from worn-out lawn mowers, left over wood and parts from bikes. We experimented with both overly wide front axles for quick turning, or wide rear ends to increase stability. Neither of these "delta" shapes, either coming or going is new. I would love to see pictures or old sketches, from guys or gals between the ages of 30 to 90, sitting in their home brewed, human powered carts. Not everybody had the money to build a Soap Box Derby cart and the imagination of the children we were, was unlimited. There are some sites that show just this type of carts I am describing. Go to your favorite search engine and type in "down hill carts" and you will see what I am talking about.

Mark Klapheke

@ Frik Linde Please define clean. Diesel engines can be configured to be clean enough to use in shaft mines without poisoning the miners.


Looks like the 3 wheeled nutcases will never accept that using 3 wheels is so dangerous that it's nutty.

Bob Lutz is behind the VIA vehicles so you know that this is the Real Deal.

These are Great Trucks. And better looking than the off the shelf GM stuff.


Lewis Dickens

@ Lewis M. Dickens III People who are afraid to fly think nothing of the car ride to the airport or climbing a flight of stairs.


@ Lewis M. Dickens III

The danger of 3 wheelers is vastly overrated because the most widely built one was badly designed. Put the weight low and in the tripod and they are reasonably safe.


Lewis M. Dickens,

You undermine your own credibility every time you resort to insults like "3 wheeled nutcases." FYI, Paul van Valkenburgh showed decades ago that a properly designed single rear wheel car can be every bit as stable as a four wheeler. His paper is available from the Society of Automotive Engineers.


I think it would be cool if there was a bio-fuel diesel hybrid. It would be totally green.

I am in favor of a fuel cell battery hybrid. With the developement of fuel cells (costing less) and easier ways of producing hydrogen, it could be very green and cool.

It would be nice if they went in the direction of either of the above or both.


Here's hoping the Blade Glider moves forward. I would like to see a small IC engine, or maybe a hybrid version, to calm range anxiety. And the Elio is to be commended for the efficient use of conventional materials. But I can't help but feel that the passenger in this tandem layout will have significant ingress/egress issues as well as a claustrophobic riding experience.

Bruce H. Anderson
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