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.
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.
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.
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.