DETROIT -- Three years ago at the North American International Auto Show, Nissan North America Vice President Al Castignetti watched as most companies dismissed perhaps Nissan's biggest risk -- its electric concept vehicle, the Leaf.
We came to these shows three years ago and we showed Leaf, and everybody said, 'Hey, electric vehicle is not a viable platform. You can't make this thing work,' Castignetti told the International Business Times last week in an interview in Detroit.
And we said, 'Well, we believe we can.'
Now, what he sees when walking around the Cobo Center at the Detroit Auto Show three years later in 2012 serves as vindication.
What I find ironic is that if you walk around this show today, every manufacturer in this show has an EV offering, whether it be concept or production, Castignetti said. But three years ago, everybody was telling us we couldn't do it, and now everybody's got one in their spots.
The demand for the electric vehicle in the U.S. has yet to gain steam. Though production was affected by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Nissan slightly missed sales goals for the Leaf. The Chevrolet Volt is under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration because of fires that have occurred days or weeks after serious crashes.
But in Detroit, the electric production and concept cars stood at nearly every company's exhibits, including Nissan's own eNV200 concept van, which will add to the company's growing electric platform along with the Leaf.
Daimler's Smart division has been slow to pick up sales in the United States, mainly due to the small size of its cars. In Detroit, it showed two electric vehicles that fits the brand's mold by attempting to shrink and electrify the market -- it introduced an electric pickup while it displayed its conventional vehicle in electric-drive form.
Smart could find demand in cities where parking is at a premium but customers still need a vehicle capable of hauling. Smart said the electric car will have a range of about 63 miles, or 100 kilometers. And like other Smart offerings, the pickup is unconventional -- last week, the company said it could fit its pickup inside the bed of an American pickup.
We at Smart love pick-ups - if they are small on the outside, large on the inside, very safe and extremely comfortable, Smart CEO Annette Winkler said.
Via is a company that is converting conventional General Motors trucks, vans and SUVs into electric and marketing them to fleet companies. Pacific Gas and Electric, Coca-Cola and Verizon all have already signed deals or placed orders.
Via has an important promoter on its board of directors: Bob Lutz, the former vice chairman of GM who has worked in upper-management positions for all of the Big Three U.S. automakers.
The thing with the Volt is that you have to convince Americans to get into smaller vehicles, which is gradually happening anyway, Lutz said in an interview with the International Business Times at the Detroit Auto Show last Tuesday.
But if you look at the average American and the mainstream American, their real heart's desire is a big pickup truck or sports utility. One of the reasons I'm excited about this is that this ensures the future of the big sport utilities and pickup trucks.
BMW introduced two concept cars in Detroit as part of its Born Electric campaign -- the i3 and i8.
The i3 concept runs on electric power. BMW said it's the first purpose-designed electric car that uses carbon fiber in production. It's expected to roll out by the end of 2012 in the U.S. And the i8, a plug-in hybrid sports car, looked more impressive in person than in the film Mission: Impossible 4. It could be out by early 2014.
Volvo unveiled its XC60 plug-in hybrid concept, a car that Volvo said averages more than 100 miles per gallon and has a 35-mile range of electric-only battery power.
The technology in the XC60 Plug-in Hybrid Concept is as ingenious as it is unique, says Stefan Jacoby, president and CEO of Volvo. You can make really green progress on the road without compromising on any of the luxury car's renowned properties.
Toyota still believes in fuel-cell vehicles. Its FCV-R vehicle stands for Fuel Cell Vehicle -- Reality and Revolution. Toyota debuted the FCV-R concept at the Tokyo Auto Show in November, but it was on display in Detroit last week as well.
Toyota bills it as a highly practical fuel-cell vehicle, but hydrogen's place in the auto market is something that likely won't get resolved before Toyota plans to introduce this vehicle to the market in 2015. Also a hindrance: it's expected price tag of $125,000.
Here's GM's Chevrolet EN-V concept, not related to Nissan's. This is not a new concept -- Chevy introduced the car at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai. It looks like something straight out of Minority Report.
Volkswagen's sales rose by 40 percent last year, and the company is looking to expand on that. In the long term, it hopes to make its cut in the electric-car market. In Detroit, VW revealed the concept E-Bugster, which combines in a name to equal an electric Bug speedster. VW said it will have a range of more than 100 miles, and it has a 114-horsepowered electric motor.
Hyundai capitalized on momentum from the Elantra winning the 2012 North American Car of the Year award by showing a near exact replica model of the car in Detroit with a catch: it's electric. It has an all-electric drivetrain, 124-mile range, and can speed up to 90 mph.
Elantra speaks to the success of our recipe of bold design and great fuel economy, said John Krafcik, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America, at the Car and Truck of the Year awards in Detroit last week. In a year with some truly breakthrough competitors, we are honored that the jury recognizes Elantra's far-reaching impact on the industry.
Last but not least, here's the Chevy Miray concept, an extended-range electric vehicle that just looks like the Batmobile. This was originally unveiled at the 2011 Seoul Motor Show in Korea. Miray means future in Korean.
(All videos by Eli Cabanas/IBTimes.)