Driving the Future and it looks pretty cool.
Day 2 of the Auto Show is a tough one. The premiere car press conferences and unveiling continue non-stop and a dozen green cars, mostly Electrical cars (EV) are available to the press to test drive. Its tough to do both and involves a lot of running between the various events one chooses and their scheduled drives.
I suppose this is the part where I should apologize to LA for the added traffic along the route caused by the press. If you were on the loop that was Venice to Hoover, to Alvarado, to Pico, then Figueroa back into a parking garage, I’m sorry if you got stuck in the mess. Half the press there wasn’t used to driving on our side of the road, or on the left and side of a car, and most importantly realize that pedestrians have the ultimate right of way in LA. I don’t know who was more scared the manufacturer chaperones or the motoring public in general as some of the press were just that bad. Sorry.
I opted to drive a mix of cars as the immediate future include just that a mix of traditional gas, hybrid, EV’s and in the near future more fuel cells. After driving them all I can see where the hybrid will have its place, particularly in the mid-size to large car categories. EV’s are in their infancy and have limitations that currently will keep them in the urban commuter category with their limited range and depending on the model, long recharging times.
Fuel Cell’s vehicles too are in their infancy with only a few cars coming to market in very limited production and even more limited infrastructure to support them. Currently the only fuel cell available to us is a leased Honda FCX Clarity. There are a total of 4 hydrogen fueling stations in So CA, with the one in Santa Monica the only one providing clean hydrogen via water and solar energy to remove the hydrogen. (Others are cracking natural gas which leaves nasty CO2 to be dealt with). Seriously, the fuel cell coupled with a hybrid drive is what in my not so humble opinion be the major player in our future. You give up nothing in terms of range, fueling time to a gas engined car and literally your exhaust is water vapor. With the help of CARB grants the infrastructure is going to improve to a dozen fuel stations in the LA Area by 2015 according to the Daimler rep I spoke with.
I started with what is the current state of the art offerings and worked my way into the future. As I had kid duty in the AM I missed getting into the line to sign up for the driving portion and many cars were booked solid by the time I got to the sign in station, cars like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf that I was very curious to test were gone.
Absent from the list was the Wheego LiFE that is going on sale soon here but has been in Europe for a few years. From the rumblings in the line I was able to gather that Wheego hand picked which press would be given access to the car in advance of the LA Auto Show. Could be sour grapes but I overheard an interesting exchange with some of the world press regarding this car. It went along these lines “I drove the car in London and there it was limited to 25 and it scared me. I understand its been reprogrammed to have a top speed of 65 and wonder how scary it will be now”. I wonder too. Seriously, though most of our freeway driving is during the commute hours you won’t see much more than a crawl so the top speed shouldn’t be an issue.
On to the driving impressions which are just my opinion and observations. They aren’t reflective of blogging.la as a whole, just my own not so humble opinions and snarks.
Traditional Gas powered clean cars included the only nominee on the Green Car of the Year for this year. The Ford Fiesta. It is a nice little subcompact. It has electronic toys like Sync that others in its class don’t have yet. Compared to the European spec model I drove a year ago I can say nothing was lost in the translation to the US Market. Actually there was a gain, they 1.6L engine standard in our cars lent a noticeable difference in quickness compared to the 1.4L powered European prototype. With EPA ratings of up to 40 mpg on the highway it makes a good representation of the class for now and into the future.
Hybrids, specifically the Green Car of the Year nominee the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid was what I drove. Nice, very nice car with the luxury goodies one expects in the class. Good performance, not as stellar as the large v6 models in the class, but an acceptable trade off for the gains in fuel economy (epa city rated 41). With no increase in base price to get into the hybrid version of the MKZ your return on investment from fuel savings is immediate.
EV’s and there was a boat load of them, some manufacture built others aftermarket conversions. I focused on the manufacturer built as, well those are the ones that will have the dealer network in place to support them. They also were the ones that had ample cars that I was able to get on the drive list. The one common theme that they all had a way of addressing was a) home charging and b)range anxiety.
Cooper Mini-E. This is the slot car of the bunch. In many ways it actually drove like one too. The usual Cooper Mini ride was softened a bit with the weight of the battery pack but still handled like you expect a Mini to handle. It did have a short learning curve to get used to driving it as it has a very sharp cut off to regenerative braking, like down shiftin’ more than a gear if you abruptly remove your foot from the brake. Once you get the hang of driving with the electronic drive, it is very much like driving a regular car, IE you give up nothing to the experience. Currently the car is available only for lease as a test with a few large corporations and power company’s. We’ll see a refined EV using the technology developed for this car in future BMW EV’s.
Mitsubishi MiEV is another EV that I drove. This one was more like your typical compact car, except it had really useable room in the back for two real passengers. Nice leg room and driving it you gave up nothing to a gas car. (It was right hand drive so that was an experience getting used to as even the turn signal stalk was in reversed position and every time I went to signal I hit the wipers instead…apologies to anyone behind me that got short notice of intent to turn). Mitsubishi has a novel approach to the range anxiety.
Mitsubishi teamed up with Eaton and Best Buy to set up “quick charge stations” that are either at the Best Buy stores or mobile to assist should you run low on charge. The system is capable of bring the battery pack to 85% of charge in 15 minutes. They will even have 20 mobile “quick Charge” trucks set up near key freeway interchanges or be able to move to large concert/sporing events to take care of their customers to help relieve their “range anxiety”. They will even have an iPhone app that will show on a map where you are and where the nearest Quick Charge station is located. This sort of infrastructure change is moving fastest for the EV’s and will make it possible to get a larger fleet of them on our streets than any other alternative fuel technology we have coming at us at the moment.
Volvo C30 DRIVe. This car I have to be fair with is just a prototype, chassis #2 to be precise so it wasn’t as refined as the others I drove. Refined as in battery capacity, not fit and finish. The drive itself was very much like that of the regular C30. It is indicative of the direction Volvo intends to take in the future, rather than purpose built EV’s it will be conversions of existing models. Its programming was more like a typical hybrid with a good “sail mode” or coasting without abrupt regenerative braking like the Mini-E. An impressive car in terms of what Volvo will give us in terms of a safe luxury EV in the future. One common comment made by the press was in regards to the position of the charge in the front grill. What happens if you break it when you bump someone and can’t get repaired right away. Interesting design feature or flaw, you decide.
The last and final car was the Mercedes. F-Cell. It’s a hydrogen fuel cell that when filled with hydrogen from a solar conversion plant produces zero emissions at point of use as well as zero emissions at energy conversion source. It is based on the “B” class Mercedes that is not sold in this country. Size wise think of it has a half scale minivan with some nice luxury toys tossed in by Mercedes. It gives nothing up to a traditional gas car in terms of the driving experience and has a refueling time as fast as filling your tank now. I was impressed with the amount of immediate torque and the silence of the car. Giving up nothing to driving experience and no need to learn a new way of driving and thinking will make the fuel cell the easiest conversion for the US market.
There you go…what the final day of the Press Days at the LA Auto Show entailed for me. Fun driving cars (I am a car guy after all) and getting a first hand glimpse into what the future holds in store for us. This is just a sampling of the nearly 30 alternative fuel and EV’s at the LA Auto Show. Definitely change coming, for the better and it will be easy to adapt as well.
This post also includes the last set of tickets I have to give away for the LA Auto Show. I have just 4 tickets to give left to 4 lucky winners, that is one ticket each. Make sure you have a legit email address so I can contact you for the info to pass on to the LA Auto Show folks so they can have your tickets waiting for you at will call.
All pics by me and will get bigger with a click. More in my flickr 2010 LA Auto Show Set.