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ONE GUARANTEED HOT TICKET at the Los Angeles Auto Show this January will be the North American debut of the Fetish, a $686,000 Batmobile-style roadster from French boutique carmaker Venturi that can bolt from zero to 60 in 4.5 seconds—with zero emissions.
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The Fetish, powered by 100 rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, is part of a vanguard of alternative-fuel vehicles that are ditching the Love Bug image of the eco-hip Toyota Prius hybrid in favor of qualities long proven to sell cars: head-turning curves and plenty of horsepower. Last year, major manufacturers developed a dozen concept cars as market gauges, merging hot-rod punch with green technology. According to industry pundits, the flashy designs suggest that the alt-fuel virtues of higher gas mileage and lower emissions will soon be marketed like spoilers and sunroofs—fringe benefits to a sweet set of wheels.
“We’re at a shift in the personality of these cars,” says Jeff Bryan, reviews editor at Edmunds.com, a top consumer automotive portal. “Buying a hybrid is still a political statement. But people are starting to demand performance and style.”
Some 2005 hybrids already provide a bit of both—and are making a killing. Ford dealers sold more than 1,100 2005 Escape Hybrids—the first hybrid SUV—this past October, and some 4,000 still in production are already reserved. Lexus claimed a record 11,000 pre-orders by late fall for its luxury hybrid SUV, the RX 400h, out in early 2005. In December, Honda rolled out a hybrid Accord with a 255-horsepower V6, making it the fastest model yet. GM’s hybrid plans include an all-wheel-drive Saturn Vue, in 2006, and a high-performance Chevy Malibu, in 2007. Like the Prius, all these rides will still have you cruising past the gas station—you’ll just be going a lot faster.