After last year’s pathetic edition of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the premier American car show is making an attempt to get with the times by adding Electric Avenue, presented by the Dow Chemical Company.

The area will have electric cars from major manufacturers on display, plus information from the suppliers and universities developing the new technologies found in the cars. There will even be a track where attendees can take electric cars for a test drive. The indoor course “winds through natural surroundings,” says the NAIAS web site, which sounds suspiciously like the horrid little track in the basement that they had last year.

Remember a couple of weeks ago when Chevy announced its contest to name the greenish-silver paint on the Volt? Well, the contestants have been narrowed from 13,000 to three, and you can vote until 8 a.m. Eastern Time on December 1.

Your choices are:

  • The uber-geeky “Veridian Joule”
  • The tasty “enviroMINT”
  • The painfully punny “EV-ergreen”

Did you submit a name that didn’t make it to the final round? Share your genius in the comments.

Electric vehicle manufacturers have been promising for years that as soon as economies of scale were in place and manufacturing became more efficient, the price of those vehicles would drop. Well, Brammo, Inc., is putting its MSRP where it’s mouth is and dropping the price of its Enertia electric motorcycle a mere six months after introducing it.

The company made a deal with electronics retailer Best Buy to sell the motorcycles on the West Coast, and it must be working out if they feel they can already drop the price by a third. When the bike made its debut over the summer, it retailed for $11,995. These days, that same electric motorcycle is $7,995. And that’s before any federal or state credits for zero-emissions vehicles.

At these prices, you can add the Enertia to your Solstice list.

I’m not sure if this is science at its best or a bit creepy: Toyota has created two new species of flower to offset the carbon emissions at its Prius factory in Japan. And that’s not even counting the grass. Or the fact that they planted the flowers in a sunset pattern.

According to Popular Science:

  • The Toyota version of cherry sage absorbs greenhouse gases through its leaves
  • The Toyota version of gardenia acts as a humidifier to cool the factory grounds and reduce the need for a/c
  • The Toyota grass, which used to need mowing three times a year, now only needs a trim once a year

Is Toyota harnessing the power of science for good or evil? Grow your opinions in the comments.

Leave it to the Aussies. A Tesla owner and his friend drove 313 miles, from Australia’s Northern Territory to South Australia, on one fully-charged battery. The cap over the socket was sealed at the outset.

Owner Simon Hackett and his friend Emilis Prelgauskas took 12 hours to drive that far, averaging 34 mph. So no speed records were set, certainly, but they did set a world record as part of the Global Green Challenge.

Tesla’s published range for the battery is 200 miles under normal driving conditions, so the Australian roadster did better by half than expected. Granted, the guys were keeping the throttle as steady as possible to conserve energy, but it’s a reassuring result for consumers wary of battery range.

Chrysler’s ENVI division was responsible for creating electric vehicles like the sporty Dodge Circuit EV we saw at the Detroit Auto Show last year, along with electric minivans and Jeeps.

But fear not, domestic electric car fans. While the ENVI program is no longer a stand-alone entity, the work its done for the past few years will not be forgotten. The program will become part of the normal vehicle development process, with just as many — if not more — people working on the projects, according to the Detroit News.

Chrysler’s new electric vehicle plan, in conjunction with its new partner Fiat,  includes:

  • 2010 Dodge Ram two-mode hybrid pickup
  • 2011 Dodge Ram plug-in and minivan hybrid – test fleet only
  • 2011 (or 2012) Fiat all-electric commercial van

The Renault Zoe Z.E. is scheduled for production in 2012, but the “spa” concept car has  a curious partner: L’Oreal’s Biotherm skin care department. The Zoe Z.E. is “aimed at people making daily local trips and looking for a car that brings them health and wellbeing,” according to a Renault press release.

The all-electric, zero-emissions car has a roof with an intelligent membrane to insulate against heat and cold (both of which can wreak havoc on a person’s  complexion) and photovoltaic cells to capture the sun’s energy (so drivers can glow with eco-self-satisfaction). And, in case you think I’m making fun, here’s another line from the press release: “ZOE Z.E. boasts the finest in air filtration and purification technology to fully protect the health of passengers and keep their skin young-looking.”

The ZOE Z.E. does have some practical tech bits. Standard recharging takes 4 to 8 hours, depending on the voltage at the socket. It’s capable of fast charging in 20 minutes at special charging stations, and it uses a “Quickdrop” system for swapping out battery packs at exchange stations.

Ford Motor Company announced that it will be using a wheat-straw-reinforced plastic in the interior storage bins of the 2010 Ford Flex. While this might seem like a baby step — and it is — Ford says the change to a 20% wheat-straw plastic will reduce petroleum use by 20,000 pounds per year and CO2 emissions by 30,000 pounds per year. The wheat straw itself is a byproduct of processing the grain.

These numbers are drops in the pollution bucket, but you have to start somewhere. Ford says it will be using the biomaterial in other places and other vehicles in the future. This is in addition to Ford’s soy-based polyurethane seat cushions and headliners, seat fabrics made from post-industrial recycled yarn, and post-consumer recycled resins for underbody covers.

A wee bit of wheat trivia, courtesy of the Ford press release: This isn’t the company’s first foray into the wheat world. In the 1920s, Henry Ford developed Fordite, a mixture of wheat straw from his farm, rubber, sulfer, silica, and more, that he used to make steering wheels.

A dozen of the contenders for the Progressive Automotive X Prize were on hand in the “Making Green Cool Zone” at SEMA 2009 in Las Vegas. I’ll keep the text short — you know by now that this is a competition to create a buildable, drivable car that gets 100 MPGe with a $10 million purse — so you can peruse the cars below.

  • Team Hydrophi Ford 500 PHI Ride
  • Team Future Vehicle Technologies eVaro
  • Team Edison 2 Very Light Car
  • Team EVI Wave 2
  • Team Tango
  • Team Optamotive Surge
  • Team Aptera 2e

While the Toyota Prius gets the Aerius treatment at the official Toyota booth, there’s a way cooler, totally pimped version at the other end of the “Making Green Cool Zone” at the 2009 SEMA show in Las Vegas. Like all the best supercars, the doors on this Prius up, and the gold-and-green flake paint job lets people know you care about looking styling as much as you care about the environment.

Stay tuned for more posts from SEMA, including more on the Prius Aerius and announcements from the X Prize people.