LA Auto Show’s “Green Car of the Year” & day 2 of Press Days

Audi A3 TDI, Green Car of the Year
Audi A3 TDI, Green Car of the Year

Its only fitting that the LA Auto Show takes the lead on the international auto show circuit as the “Green Auto Show”. After all we created the car culture and now should be the ones taking the lead in re-inventing the car for the future. Whether we are #1 for air pollution or traffic congestion how we reinvent the car and use them should be our roll for the future. On Thursday I drove the future and its good.

Among the cars that I drove is this years winner of the “Green Car of the Year“. The Audi A3 TDI (as in turbo diesel) was the winner. It is the same basic power-plant seen in last years winner with some changes to the engine management system for a bit more torque and “engine hum” to better fit Audi’s sport-luxury image. All of this was done and it achieves 42mpg on the open road (32 city), while reducing its CO2 output by 50% over the “base” A3 with a 2L turbocharged gas engine. Real world clean and high mileage without giving up driving fun is a win.

There was a field of a dozen cars available for driving by the media out of the 50 cars at the show that were potential candidates in “green car of the year”. Unfortunately there were more press people wanting to drive the leanest and cleanest of the bunch so I didn’t get into all of the truly green cars for our future. What I did get into was a very refined fuel cell and a prototype electric vehicle. For kicks and giggles I drove a few of the cars representing the future of the big luxury automobile for a taste of how they intend to stay relevant in our future.

Warren Buffet this week predicted in 20 years that all cars sold here will be electric. That’s pretty bold, but I have to agree that the electric car in urban areas will be a significant player if some of the hurdles in the infrastructure can be fixed. The hydrogen fuel cell is another key player in our future, again providing we have a clean source for the gas and overcome the infrastructure hurdles. In my not so humble opinion I think the fuel cell will be the bigger player in our future as the infrastructure to support will be easier to put into place.

Honda’s FCX Clarity is the fuel cell car that I got to spend some time driving in the circuit around downtown. It is available for lease in select areas (West Side and Irvine) around the LA Metro area now. It is mid-sized, about the same as the Accord. It drives and feels as nice as the Accord my friends recently purchased. The only difference between the two is that the FCX has a soft slot car type whine as the fuel cell compressor pumps air into the cell to produce electricity. It is a much more refined automobile in terms of driving experience than the Chevy Equinox that I drove last year.

Honda has planned several events this spring to allow the public access to driving the FCX Clarity and I will keep you posted as to when those will take place.

It was fun driving the Honda. With me was an R&D guy visiting us who took notes the entire time during the drive.   He’d ask questions as much as explain what is going on with the car while I drove.   He also made some interesting observations about drivers in LA being very bold with left turns.  No kidding.

The cars I really wanted to spend some time in were the all electrics.   We’re seeing our first wave coming as Verdell noted in her post a couple of weeks ago.  We may not have the infrastructure to support at the moment, but the bits needed are available now.   So Cal Edison even has a handy web page full of information of what you need as a homeowner to be ready for an electric car.   So Cal Edison is in the process now of installing timed meters that are able to determine when you are using electricity and charge rates accordingly, with night time the lowest rate and most perfect for charging ones electric car.

Honda FCX Clarity, hydrogen fuel cell propelled.
Honda FCX Clarity, hydrogen fuel cell propelled.

The electric car I drove was a prototype of the 2012 Ford Focus Electric car coming our way in about 2 years. Silent driving. The only noise was the regular tire noise from the standard issue tires on the Focus. Driving it was easy and equally easy to see it as my “daily driver” for the little bit of driving I do around town on a given day. The range is about 80 miles and does so on an overnight charge.

The more immediate future won’t be all electric and Hybrids will continue to be part of the solution for those wanting or needing larger cars for the classic “road trip” either as an owned or rented car. BMW, GM and Daimler joined forces and developed a mild hybrid drive that is seeing a variety of applications from pick-up trucks to luxury sedans. I actually got to test a few of those while I was at it. In the center of the car universe the luxury niche will exist in some form and what I got was a nice taste on what is possible.

BMW has two such hybrids on display. One, the X6 Active Hybrid is on the market now, the other is shown at the LA Auto Show as a concept and that is the 7 series hybrid. The X6 is an interesting vehicle, is it an SUV with the roof lowered or an enlarged station wagon? You decide as I can’t figure it out, but it does have its fan in its niche. Driving it is interesting. A light touch and you can drive by all electric power up to 37mph for 1.6 miles. If you need more zip the twin turbo 4.4 litre steps in and rushes you along your way. Their application of the hybrid drive yields according to BMW an almost 25% increase in fuel economy, but don’t get too excited as that increase still translates to only 17 city and 19 highway for this vehicle that tips the scales at 5,800 lbs.

BMW Active X, X6 active hybrid.
BMW Active X, X6 active hybrid.

Mercedes has a hybrid that is classified as a “mild hybrid” in that the electric motor assists the 3.5L gas engine in an “S” class sedan. An interesting feature this car had was that when you come to a complete stop, the engine shuts down until you remove your foot from the brake pedal to start. This helps achieve better mileage in the city. After that you’re hard pressed to tell you don’t have a V8 under the hood. The car has all the regular “S” class goodies but with mileage one typically see in a regular mid-sized 6cyl at 19 city and 26 highway. I’d love to have one for a run to Vegas (hint, hint…) for the holidays with the fam up there.

Mercedes S400, mild hybrid drive sedan.
Mercedes S400, mild hybrid drive sedan.

During the shows public days Toyota will be having driving events as well. Ford will be holding an event as well off site. For both check with the manufacturer reps in their show areas for details. If you haven’t driven a hybrid yet this is your chance to find out how easy they are to just drive while still being clean and green.

On a final note, I was able to verify with the LA Auto Show folks that the folks from Maserati, Ferrari and Lambo opted not to attend this year.  For those of you who like the super cars they will be absent but others like the Lexus LF-A are there to enjoy.

Tickets and discount tickets can be purchased here for the LA Auto Show public days starting on December 4, 2009.
Details: LA Convention Center, LA Auto Show is open to the public Dec. 4-13. Hours are:
Weekdays: 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Saturdays: 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Sundays: 9:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.

All pics by me and get bigger with a click. More can be found in my flickr set 2009 LA Auto Show. Please note that my impressions of the cars is just that and not an ad for a particular car.

7 thoughts on “LA Auto Show’s “Green Car of the Year” & day 2 of Press Days”

  1. I saw the mayor’s plan to put some charging stations in. Its a good start The bigger infrastructure changes is going to come in terms of getting the housing stock to have stations installed. The biggest problem will be in rentals, I mean there are landlords who do the bare minimum and don’t see them incurring the expense. We may see some high-end rentals get it. Convincing HOA’s to install them in the garages and common areas will be another hurdle to pass. Where we will see the best and fastest growth likely will be in the individual homeowners who don’t need approval of HOA’s or landlords. Early adapters are going to pave the way. Maybe tax credits will help for the landlords but I have reservations.

    That is why I think fuel cells will be the better option as if there’s a buck to be made we’ll see service stations add hydrogen refueling to their menus and spread that technology faster.

  2. Hi Will,another similar is for the VW Jetta commercial that ran when they received “Green Car of the Year” last year. It certainly is poking fun at hybrids and others, but the point missed is that the modern diesel is as clean as a hybrid and you don’t have to give up any driving pleasure or fun in the process of going Green. Also, there are a large number of hybrid owners and potential owners (me) that don’t want our hybrid to fit the cookie cutter mold of the Prius and Insight. Just my 2 shiny copper bits on the topic of that commercial.

    I still hold that for urban areas in particular the electric and fuel cell cars are going to be our future. (Of course mass transit refined will play the bigger role). In the rural areas it may well be the diesel where you need larger range and capacities.

  3. Great post Fraz! I’m shocked the high end cars weren’t there! That little hall is one of my favorites every year. Maybe they heard I couldn’t make it so they decided it wasn’t worth it. :-)

    As far as electric and hybrids go, I still can’t get behind it. OK, so there’s no exhaust, but where will all these batteries be going when the cars are finished?? Are there battery recycling places where they take care of it in an environmental way? If there are, tell me, and I’ll be behind it 100%.

  4. Dave, the infrastructure is slowly being built to handle the recycling of those batteries. So far the nickel hydride in the early cars is going strong still, in some prius’ over 200K miles already. Chalk it up to urban myth that the batteries fail fast. The lithium ion that are starting to make the appearance now should be even more durable. Regardless both are recyclable and will be or so I am told. I honestly see hybrids as only a stop-gap measure until we actually get the infrastructure in place for clean electricity for electrics and hydrogen for the fuel cells. My guess, won’t be the first time I was wrong, but I gleaned it from a variety of discussions with the manufacturers on where they see the long term future going.

  5. As far back to the 70’s I was enthused about alternative fueled vehicles. Maybe steamed powered vehicles will make a comeback because wood and other renewable energy sources can heat up water to make a steam powered vehicle that fairly can beat the pants off any other powered vehicle.

    The drawback to steam is the high pressures. If high enough an explosion could be a very hazardous thing to be near.

    Fortunately the Lithium powered batter people are also making breakthroughs so that the battery can be less hazardous if short circuited.

    If the price of gas ever goes to near six dollars a gallon it would only be a short matter of time before an alternative fueled vehicle would make sense.

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