Weakening gasoline prices have put a crimp in sales of advanced fuel-efficiency vehicles in the U.S, but automakers aren't betting on cheap gas forever. And with federal rules calling for ever-increasing fuel efficiency, that means the cars that will be hitting dealers' showrooms over the next decade increasingly will feature conventional and plug-in hybrid, battery-electric, fuel-cell electric and diesel propulsion systems that outperform gasoline engines in fuel efficiency. Collectively, these are called "alternative" vehicles.
What's Coming: Alternative Vehicles, 2016-'18
New Hybrid, Electric, Fuel-Cell Vehicles and Diesel Cars
Even if you think you're not really interested in innovative technologies for improved fuel efficiency, it's increasingly likely that a car or truck that has some type of electric drive or that uses an alternative fuel will wind up on your consideration list the next time you go car shopping.
Slowing Market, Growing Numbers
By our count, there are more than 100 conventional hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery-electric and diesel vehicles already in production, although some are built only for limited markets. These are primarily some or all of the states that have adopted California's zero-emissions vehicle mandate, which are known as the ZEV states.
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Most of these advanced fuel-efficiency cars have been introduced in the past five years, and things have slowed a bit after that flurry of activity. Automakers are still trying to figure out which technologies and fuels have the most promise in the race to slash oil consumption and greenhouse gases.
Additionally, economic and political conditions caused oil prices to tumble in 2014, prompting many automakers to slow down and delay plans for launching alternative-fuel vehicles, which typically have greater market appeal when gasoline prices are high.
But while the flow of new advanced-efficiency vehicles is slowing a little, car companies aren't stopping. Edmunds.com expects 30 or more introductions from the major players in the U.S. through the 2018 model year.
The Latest Tech Entrant: Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicles
One of the newest technologies, automotive hydrogen fuel cells broke into the market in 2014 with Hyundai's launch of a fuel-cell Tucson crossover. That will be followed this summer by a fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV) from Toyota and in early 2016 by one from Honda. Several others are expected in the 2017-'20 model years.
Fuel-cell vehicles are electric cars and trucks that replace the "pure" EV's large and expensive grid-rechargeable battery pack with an onboard system that converts hydrogen and oxygen to electricity that flows directly to the vehicle's electric motor.
That system is called a fuel-cell stack, and it uses a catalyst to split the electrons from the hydrogen molecules. The hydrogen fuel is taken onboard as a gas and stored in pressurized tanks. The systems use advanced lithium-ion batteries to store some of the electricity, but the battery packs are much smaller, lighter and cheaper than those in conventional EVs.
What You'll Find on This List — and What You Won't
This list is aimed at making it easy for you to get acquainted with the brand-new vehicles that are coming to U.S. dealerships. They're arranged by model year, make and model. We've given release dates when we know them and included pricing, if the information is available.
Prices listed are for the base model and do not include a variety of incentives provided by federal, state and local governments and utility companies. Federal tax credits for EVs and plug-in hybrids are based on battery size and can run up to $7,500 for a battery-electric vehicle. They are good for the first 200,000 qualified vehicles produced by each manufacturer, a limit no automaker has yet hit. State and local incentives vary widely.
The list does not include vehicles that already have gone on sale. Also excluded are redesigned or reengineered second-generation vehicles, as well as a few vehicles that rumors say are in the works, but which we couldn't pin down. Finally, we have dropped some models that appeared in previous versions of this list because the manufacturers have discontinued or postponed plans to build them. There's one still-to-come 2015 model on the list. The rest are for the 2016-'18 model years.
The list only runs through the 2018 model year because things get too iffy after that. We'll add new vehicles and new model years as information becomes available.
2015 Model Year
2015 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Plug-In Hybrid: Arriving spring 2015. The S500 PHEV will feature a turbocharged, 328-horsepower V6 engine and an 80-kilowatt electric motor. Combined output is 436 hp and is expected to be good for 0-60-mph acceleration in 5.5 seconds. The company promises all-electric range of up to 20 miles from the 10-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Mercedes-Benz also plans plug-in hybrid versions of the C-Class sedan and the GLE sport-utility (formerly the ML-Class) for 2016.
2016 Model Year
2016 Acura NSX: Arriving late 2015. This hybrid is the long-awaited replacement for the original Acura NSX, which was discontinued in 2005. It will feature a mid-mounted V6 coupled with a high-performance version of the three-motor Sport Hybrid system introduced for the 2014 Acura RLX. One of the three electric motors will help the engine drive the rear wheels, while the other two will turn the front wheels. The system is expected to produce more than 550 hp. The car makes use of lots of aluminum and composites and is quite light to maximize performance and fuel economy. Pricing is expected to be a bit north of $150,000.
2016 Audi A3 Sportback E-tron Plug-In Hybrid: Arriving October 2015. Powertrain particulars include a turbocharged 1.4-liter, four-cylinder gas engine rated at 150 hp and a 75-hp electric motor powered by an 8.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Combined output is 204 horsepower and 588 pound-feet of torque, All-electric range is estimated at up to 31 miles, and charging time at 240 volts takes about 2.5 hours. Pricing starts at $37,900.
2016 Audi R8 E-tron: Audi's next-generation R8 sports car, due in 2016, will include a battery-electric "E-tron" model. It will be built to order, meaning there will be few of them, and they will be very expensive. Audi says a model built to meet U.S. specifications is uncertain, meaning it will depend on demand. Powertrain details are scarce, but we've seen numbers suggesting that the all-electric R8 E-tron would produce close to 465 hp, with 0-60 acceleration in 3.9 seconds and a 155-mph top speed. Audi's been mum about battery size but said that it decided to offer the car only when its ongoing EV development work extended the per-charge range of the R8 E-tron to about 280 miles.
2016 BMW 330e Plug-In Hybrid: Expected early 2016. This will replace the 3-Series conventional hybrid in BMW's lineup. It mates a 4-cylinder gas engine with an electric motor, a package good for an estimated 250 horsepower. We expect all-electric range for the U.S. model to be around 18 miles. BMW says top speed will be about 140 mph with 0-60 mph acceleration at 6.1 seconds.
2016 BMW 740e xDrive Plug-In Hybrid: Expected mid- to late-2016. Part of the new-for-2016 lightweight 7-Series family, the all-wheel drive PHEV will use a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine and an electric motor integrated with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Combined power output is rated at 326 hp. The 7-Series plug-in is expected to deliver up to 23 miles of all-electric range from a lithium-ion battery pack mounted beneath the rear seats. The 7-Series uses a new "carbon core" platform and body that combines aluminum, high-strength steel and plastic that's reinforced with carbon fiber to shed nearly 200 pounds of weight.
2016 BMW X5 xDrive 40e Plug-In Hybrid: Arriving late 2015. BMW will build this car as part of a $1 billion expansion of its U.S. manufacturing plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. BMW says the battery will be rated in Europe for up to 19 miles of all-electric range, but the U.S. rating system reflects our driving patterns, which include more high-speed highway use, so the official EPA-certified all-electric range here is likely to be lower. The 9-kWh rechargeable lithium-ion battery powers a 94-hp electric motor. On the gasoline side, the hybrid system uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 241 hp.
2016 Elux Karma: Arriving possibly by mid-2016. Wanxiang Group, the Chinese auto parts and battery company that purchased Fisker Automotive out of bankruptcy in 2014, says it is ready to hit the market with a refreshed, upgraded version of the Fisker Karma plug-in-hybrid, now to be called the Elux Karma. There's a Web site that teases an April 2015 Karma introduction, but there's been no news of the car hitting the market and Wanxiang previously had indicated that while production would start this year, new models wouldn't be available for sale until 2016. We're calling it a 2016 model even though it will be based on the Fisker Karma last produced in 2012. We're also suggesting taking a "wait-and-see" attitude toward the planned relaunch.
2016 Honda Fuel-Cell Car: Arriving mid-2016. Honda's hydrogen-fueled electric sedan is based on a concept shown at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show. Honda says this will be the first time an automaker will have packed the entire fuel-cell powertrain into a package that fits under the hood and doesn't take up cargo or passenger cabin space. The automaker is promising a range of 300 miles or more on a tank of hydrogen fuel, and three- to five-minute refueling at one of the nation's scant handful of hydrogen stations. As with other fuel-cell cars to come in the next few years, initial sales likely will be limited to Southern California and the San Francisco-Sacramento area of Northern California, where almost all of the existing and planned hydrogen stations are located.
2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid: Arriving late 2015. This plug-in variant of the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid will have an all-electric range of up to 22 miles. Hyundai says overall fuel economy will come in at an EPA-rated 93 MPGe, while the car will deliver a solid 40 mpg when running in conventional hybrid mode once the 9.8-kWh lithium-ion battery's initial charge has been depleted. Pricing for the plug-in Sonata is likely to start in the neighborhood of $35,000.
2016 Mazda 6 Skyactiv-D Diesel: Mazda's much-delayed first diesel for the U.S. isn't likely to make it to market until sometime in 2016. Mazda insists that it will really debut next year, despite three delays since its originally promised 2014 launch. Upon arrival, its power will come from a 2.2-liter turbocharged diesel engine with emissions on par with those from gasoline engines. The Mazda 6 diesel delays have been ordered to allow improvement of the engine's emissions and power characteristics. There are expectations that once the Mazda 6 diesel is here, the carmaker will begin migrating the diesel engine to other popular models it sells in the U.S.
2016 C350 Plug-In Hybrid: Arriving fall 2015. A 1.9-liter gas engine combines with an electric motor to deliver a combined 275 hp. In all-electric mode, the 6.2-kWh lithium-ion battery will deliver up to 18 miles of all-electric range on a single charge. Top speed is 130 mph in conventional mode and 80 mph in electric-only operation. The C-Class plug-in will offer five separate transmission modes and four operating modes for the hybrid system.
2016 GLE 550e Plug-In Hybrid: Arriving fall 2015. Mercedes' entry into the electrified SUV segment stuffs a version of the S550e sedan's powerful plug-in hybrid system into the new GLE. It features a 329-hp V6 engine and an 85-kilowatt (114-hp) electric motor. The electric motor is behind the engine and directly in front of a seven-speed automatic transmission. Working together, engine and motor provide a combined output of 436 hp and an impressive 479 pound-feet of torque. The 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery is expected to provide in the neighborhood of 15 miles of all-electric range. Fuel-efficiency figures for the U.S. haven't been released, but the GLE plug-in should deliver better than 50 mpg efficiency overall.
2016 Tesla Model X: Arriving fall 2015. This is Tesla's first crossover: a sporty utility vehicle based on the Tesla Model S sport sedan that launched in the summer of 2012. It will share about 60 percent of the Model S parts. The Model X will be the industry's first all-electric crossover and the first with overhead-opening doors, a system Tesla calls the "falcon-wing." As with the Model S, the Model X will come in several trim levels with either 70-kWh or 85-kWh battery packs. Because of the taller and heavier crossover's reduced aerodynamic efficiency, expect the range per charge to be about 200-250 miles, depending on battery size and performance features. That's 10 percent less than that of the Model S. Expect Model X pricing to begin at about $77,000 and top out north of $125,000. Launch has been delayed several times, much to the dismay of Tesla fans.
2016 Toyota Mirai FCV: Arriving fall 2015. Toyota is betting big on a hydrogen future for passenger cars. It has been running a test fleet of fuel-cell electric Highlander SUVs for several years. Its first retail model, however, will be a sedan based on the fuel-cell vehicle design concept it displayed at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show. The four-seater should deliver about 310 miles on a tank of hydrogen, with fuel economy pegged at the equivalent of 65 mpg. Toyota has said pricing will start at $58,325 before incentives. Only 200 will be available in 2015, and only 3,000 by the end of 2017. Sales initially will be limited to California, where almost all of the nation's publicly available hydrogen stations are located. One perk for buyers and lessees is that Toyota will pay for the fuel for the first few years.
2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Plug-In Hybrid: Arriving late summer 2015. The XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid crossover is one of Volvo's new four-cylinder "Drive-E" models. It will couple a 2.0-liter gas engine that is both supercharged and turbocharged with an 80-hp electric motor. Total output for the seven-seater is 394 hp, according to Volvo. The gas engine will drive the front wheels, while the electric motor will drive the rear wheels. The supercharger will provide boost at the low end of the power range, handing off to the turbocharger as engine speeds increase. A driver-selected all-electric mode will enable the all-wheel-drive SUV to cruise on battery power alone for up to 17 miles. The carmaker says the XC90 T8's lithium-ion battery pack doesn't compromise cargo or passenger space. Pricing starts at $69,095.
2017 Model Year
2017 Audi Q7 E-tron Quattro Plug-In-Hybrid: Arriving late 2016 or early 2017. The all-wheel-drive Q7 E-tron combines a turbocharged 2.0-liter gas engine with an electric drive system that uses a 17.3-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Estimated all-electric range is about 25 miles. A diesel-electric version will be sold in Europe and Asia.
2017 Audi Q8 E-tron: As Audi continues to push forward with electrification of its vehicles, a sportier version of its popular Q-series crossover is an obvious candidate. The SUV-styled Audi is big enough to hold a lot of battery and still provide decent room for cargo and passengers. Audi aims to compete here with Tesla's Model X, with the Q8 EV delivering close to 300 miles of range from a powertrain and battery adapted from the R8 E-tron sports car.
2017 Bentley Plug-In Hybrid: Bentley says it will use its new SUV, due in 2016, as the basis for a retail model plug-in hybrid it plans to introduce in 2017. The automaker hasn't released details except to say that the car's rechargeable battery pack should be capable of providing at least 30 miles of all-electric range and that there likely will be a driver-operated EV-mode switch to enable quiet all-electric driving in city centers where automobile noise and emissions are a significant issue.
2017 Cadillac CT6 Plug-In Hybrid: Expected late 2016 or early 2017. The plug-in version of the all-new 2016 CT6, which debuted at the 2015 Shanghai Auto Show, will mate a turbocharged 2.0-liter gas engine and two electric motors for about 335 hp. An 18.4-kWh battery pack should deliver up to 37 miles of all-electric range.
2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV: Yes, Bolt, as in "lightning bolt." GM is adamant that consumers won't confuse this little electric car, first shown as a concept at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, with the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid. The Bolt, which looks a lot like the subcompact hatchback offspring of a BMW i3 and one of GM's Korean subsidiary's models, will have two big pluses going for it: a 200-mile range and a $37,000 price tag. GM, which confirmed production plans for the Bolt just a month after the concept was shown, says it will launch the Bolt in all 50 states. That's a departure, since most EVs initially go on sale only in the ZEV states, where automakers test the waters before deciding whether there's demand enough for a wider rollout.
2017 Chrysler Full-Size Crossover Plug-In Hybrid: Mid-2016 to late 2016. All we know at this point is that Chrysler has said it plans to bring a plug-in hybrid variant of a full-size crossover to market next year. We're assuming it would be a 2017 model.
2017 Chrysler Town and Country Plug-In Hybrid: Arrives late 2016. Initial sales possibly will be limited to California and other ZEV states, given Fiat Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne's long-standing dismissal of electrification as economically unjustified. As with the plug-in crossover, Chrysler has provided scant information on what appears to be the industry's first PHEV minivan, except to say that it will deliver a combined gas-electric fuel economy of about 75 MPGe. The plug-in minivan initially was slated for a late 2015 launch as a 2016 model.
2017 Ford Fuel-Cell Car: Ford has been conspicuously quiet about its fuel-cell work for years now, but recently said that it has teamed with Daimler and Nissan Motor Corporation to develop hydrogen-powered fuel-cell electric cars that will go on sale in 2017.
2017 Infiniti Plug-In Hybrid: All we know about this one is that Infiniti, Nissan's luxe division, has shown several concepts in the past, and a top Nissan planning executive said last year that plans for a production Infiniti PHEV were still alive. More recent statements from Infiniti insiders have us guessing that this may be a 2017 or even 2018 model, following Nissan's redo of the Leaf EV, expected in 2016.
2017 Mercedes-Benz F-Cell: Mercedes-Benz has been testing hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles for more than a decade and presently is running a demonstration program in Europe and the U.S. with the F-Cell, which is based on the B-Class. The company pledged in 2011 to have mass-market fuel-cell cars ready by 2015, but recently said it is delaying things until 2017 in hopes that the market, technology and fuel availability will improve. Mercedes' parent, Daimler, recently signed a fuel-cell technology development deal with Ford Motor Company and Nissan Motor Corporation, with the aim of beginning production of fuel-cell electric vehicles for each company in 2017.
2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid: Arriving spring, mid-2016. Mitsubishi will have been selling the Outlander plug-in-hybrid for almost three years in Japan and Europe when it finally arrives in the U.S. after multiple delays. It will feature an all-wheel-drive system powered by two electric motors and a gasoline engine that will deliver several hundred miles of range and allow for continuous operation even when there's no charger available for the battery pack. The Japanese model travels up to 30 miles in all-electric mode, but the U.S. version is expected to deliver somewhere in the range of 20-25 all-electric miles. Pricing is expected to be in the neighborhood of $45,000.
2017 Nissan Fuel-Cell Car: Nissan is one of a number of automakers that have been developing and testing fuel-cell vehicles for more than a decade now. Its first retail model likely will be the result of the Daimler-Ford-Nissan development program.
2017 Tesla Model 3: Arriving early 2017. The third-generation Tesla will be the company's shot at entering the mainstream midsize family-car market with an electric vehicle that's priced under $45,000. The carmaker has delayed this smaller Tesla several times as it has worked on getting its Model X to market. The company also is discussing a multiple-model lineup, including a sedan and a crossover. A new Tesla sports car, to replace the Tesla Roadster that was discontinued in 2011, could follow.
2018 Model Year
2018 5 Series Plug-In Hybrid: BMW, which debuted its X5 plug-in at the Shanghai auto show this year, apparently is also developing a PHEV version of the 5 Series sedan. Reports out of Germany say the car would use a second-generation plug-in hybrid system capable of providing about 50 miles of all-electric drive, with the internal combustion engine reserved for highway cruising and when needed to meet maximum acceleration demands at speeds of 35 mph or greater.
2018 Honda EV: Honda has retired the short-lived Fit EV, a lease-only subcompact for the California market, but promises to bring out a new all-electric vehicle by 2018 (which means it could even be a 2019 model). Other than that, the company is quiet about future plans. We expect that the new EV will be a small commuter car. The Honda fuel-cell electric vehicle launching in 2016 as a large compact or small midsize sedan will be aimed at ending range anxiety with its 300-plus miles of range per tank of hydrogen fuel. So a new BEV from Honda likely will be aimed at the short-distance commuter market.
2018 Honda Plug-In-Hybrid: At the same time Honda announced plans for a new EV, it said it also will bring out a new plug-in-hybrid by 2018. The company already has a plug-in version of the Accord sedan, so we're looking for a plug-in crossover SUV. Honda so far hasn't provided any clues except to say the PHEV will be a "dedicated" model, meaning it won't be based on something already in the lineup. SUVs continue to be the fastest-growing segment in the market, and German automakers already have introduced a number of plug-in-hybrid crossover SUVs, with more to come. So why not a Honda or Acura model as well?