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  • Green Cars Take Center Stage at the 2007 LA Auto Show

    Posted on November 19th, 2007 ninarussin

    By Nina Russin

    Honda FCX Clarity makes its debut at the LA Auto Show

    Honda FCX Clarity makes its debut at the LA Auto Show

    What’s good for the environment is good for the economy. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Southern California: where financial solvency is directly linked to sustainable energy. To paraphrase the Missing Persons song, nobody drives in LA, and few take public transportation.

    As the price of crude oil nears a hundred dollars a barrel and gas in one Northern California town reaches five dollars a gallon, automakers are beating each other up for seats on the green car bandwagon. At the recent LA auto show, all had something to say about the best way to power the cars of the future.

    Production fuel cell car

    The Honda Clarity, a production fuel cell car that rolls out next summer, is proof that zero emissions cars can live in the real world. The car’s development dates back to 1999, when Honda unveiled the first FCX concept.

    In the past seven years, Honda engineers have reduced the size of the fuel cell stack to a fifth of its original size, with half the parts. As a result, it’s less expensive to produce and easier to package in a small sedan. Lithium ion batteries used in the FCX Clarity are smaller and lighter than the nickel-metal hydride batteries used in many of today’s production hybrid vehicles.

    The FCX Clarity’s V Flow stack combines a battery pack and hydrogen storage tank to power the electric motor. Hydrogen mixes with oxygen in the air to propel the car. The vehicle’s only emission is water. The car can go about 270 miles before refueling. The FCX Clarity can operate in temperatures as low as minus twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit as well as extreme heat.

    Initially, the car will be available only in Southern California, due to proximity of fueling stations in Santa Monica, Torrance and Irvine. Honda is leasing the cars on a 3-year program for $600 per month. The automaker is also working on a home refueling station that will allow owners to refuel their cars on the home’s natural gas supply.

    Toyota installed its experimental fuel cell hybrid powertrain in the popular Highlander crossover vehicle for testing in Japan and North America. After driving the vehicle from Osaka to Tokyo on a single tank of hydrogen, engineers decided to tackle the Alcan highway, to test the vehicle’s cold-weather capabilities.

    That 2300-mile trek began in Fairbanks, Alaska and ended in Vancouver, British Columbia. Most of the drive took place in Canada, since that country allows mobile high-pressure refueling along its highways: the United States does not. Linde, A German company based in the United States provided the hydrogen; Canadian-based Powertech Labs supplied the mobile refueling station.

    The seven-day drive came off without a hitch. Still Toyota is taking its time bringing the fuel cell Highlander to market. One reason is that the company is developing the fuel cell system internally, with no help from outside engineers or suppliers. The automaker used the same approach for the Hybrid Synergy Drive system in the current Prius. While it’s a slower process, the company has better control over the final product, and the opportunity for higher profits once the car goes into production.

    In the meantime, Toyota’s Highlander hybrid rolls out this year. Toyota expects to sell over a quarter million hybrid vehicles by the end of 2007, and at least 285,000 Prius, Camry and Highlander hybrids in 2008.

    Global approach to sustainable energy

    Both Ford and General Motors are taking a global approach to sustainable energy, depending less on a single type of technology than improvements in overall efficiency and renewed focus on smaller vehicles.

    “We are focusing on sustainable technology solutions that can be used not for hundreds or thousands of cars- but for millions of cars, because that is how Ford can make a difference,” said Ford Motor Company CEO, Alan Mulally in his keynote address to the Motor Press Guild.

    Ford’s short-term plan is to introduce turbo-charged direct injection gasoline engines into small vehicles: the first is the 2009 Lincoln MKS luxury sedan that launches in the summer of 2008. According to Mulally, Ford will refresh seventy percent of its current products by 2009, and a hundred percent by the following year.

    Although the automaker is researching alternative technologies including fuel cells, electric powertrains and biofuels, Mulally sees the greatest immediate benefit in improving the efficiency of traditional gas-powered engines and reducing vehicle weight.

    “Substantial vehicle weight reductions will enable us to use smaller displacement engines that provide secondary efficiencies, such as lighter chassis and suspension components,” he said. “We can do this for millions of customers in high quality products they want and value…”  Mulally’s plan is to return Ford to profitability by 2009, by matching production to real demand for the company’s products.

    The automaker plans to make fifty percent of its internal combustion vehicles flex-fuel capable by 2012. Stateside, Ford is negotiating for access to the power grid in off-peak hours for recharging electric cars. By the end of the decade, the full-sized F150 pickup and Ford’s large sport-utility vehicles will be available with a clean diesel engine.

    General Motors is also leveraging its global assets, according to vice chairman of global product development, Bob Lutz.

    “There is no silver bullet to solve our energy and environmental problems overnight,” said Lutz. General Motors’ solution is to address the challenges from many different angles, including introducing sixteen hybrid vehicles over the next four years.

    General Motors unveiled a stage fuel of alternative fuel vehicles in LA, ranging from the Chevy Volt concept and Equinox electric fuel cell vehicle to the Silverado hybrid production car. Chevrolet is introducing an E-85 compatible Impala, and hybrid version of the new Malibu sedan.

    The Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon full-sized hybrids utilize a two-mode technology developed in conjunction with Chrysler and BMW. The 2008 Tahoe Hybrid won the Green Car Journal’s Green Car of the Year award. The Tahoe seats up to eight passengers and can tow up to 6,200 pounds.

    Fuel economy for the two-wheel drive version is 21/22 mpg city/highway, a fifty percent improvement over the 5.3-liter gasoline engine. The Tahoe can go up to thirty miles-per-hour on electric power alone. A six-liter V-8 engine operates on four cylinders when possible to save gas. While this active fuel management system is available on other gas-powered cars, the hybrid’s electric motor allows the engine to stay in the four-cylinder mode for longer periods. A nickel-metal hydride battery pack recharges on the go using regenerative energy from the brakes.

    Clean diesel

    European automakers including Volkswagen, Audi, and BMW are bringing more clean diesel models to the United States, now that the low sulfur fuel is available in all fifty states. New diesel technology offers performance comparable to gasoline engines with much better fuel economy and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

    Stefan Jacobi, CEO for Volkswagen North America, expects that the automaker will become the front runner for clean diesel in the States.

    Volkswagen will introduce a turbo-diesel Jetta in the United States next year. Powered by new common-rail diesel engine, the TDI Jetta meets emissions requirements in all fifty states. The SCCA is adding a spec racing class for the new Jetta.

    Volkswagen also unveiled its GX3 crossover: a three wheel hybrid of race car and motorcycle. Developed in California by Volkswagen and Moonraker, the two-seater accelerates from zero-to-sixty in 5.7 seconds, and averages 46 miles-per-gallon. Pricing will start around $17,000.

    The space up! blue is Volkswagen’s fuel cell concept car based on the legendary Samba Bus. Range is 65 miles on the lithium ion battery, or 220 miles on a single energy charge for the high-temperature fuel cell. Despite its relatively small footprint, the space up! blue has the interior space of a much larger vehicle. It is almost as tall as it is wide. The electric motor and battery pack are located in the back of the vehicle: the high-temperature fuel cell is packaged up front. Top speed is 75 miles-per-hour, with zero-to-sixty acceleration of just over 13 seconds.

    Audi is also expanding its range of clean diesel offerings in the United States for 2008, to include turbo-diesel versions of its Q7 crossover and A4 sedan. The new 3-liter TDI engine delivers 240 horsepower, and meets California’s LEV II Bin 5 standards. A recent real world test of the A8 luxury sedan with clean diesel engine produced average highway fuel economy figures over 30 miles-per-gallon.

    Audi’s Cross Cabriolet Quattro concept car  combines all-terrain capability with passenger car performance and open air fun. Engineers stiffened the underbody to give the concept car the same torsional stiffness as a sport-utility vehicle. Two spring-loaded roll bars behind the rear seats deploy automatically if the sensor system determines that a rollover is imminent.

    Designed to run on the same 3-liter TDI engine, it accelerates from zero-to-sixty in just over seven seconds. Top speed is 150 miles-per-hour.

    BMW is rolling out a bi-turbo diesel late next year, that promises a thirty percent fuel economy gain over gas-powered engines. In the meantime, the automaker rides on its small car laurels: the fuel-efficient Mini has reduced corporate greenhouse gas emissions by twelve percent, according to a survey by the not-for-profit group, Environmental Defense. At the same time, overall fuel economy is up fourteen percent.

    “If Hollywood stands for filmmaking, BMW stands for powerful engines in compact packages,” said Tom Purves, president and CEO of BMW North America. This year, BMW rolls out the 1 Series coupe, available in two grades: 128i and 135i. Based on the legendary 2002, the coupe rides on a 3-liter inline six turbocharged engine that produces 300 horsepower and 300 foot-pounds of torque. Zero-to-sixty acceleration is just over five seconds; top speed is 155 miles-per-hour. Pricing begins just under $30,000 for the 128i.

    BMW expands its sports activity vehicle offerings, with the concept X6 and X6 hybrid edging towards production. The M3 coupe and sedan arrive in the States next spring. Their 414 horsepower V8 engine may not be green, but with a zero-to-sixty time of 4.7 seconds, it probably won’t spend much time idling in traffic.

    Chrysler’s full-sized hybrid trucks, based on the same two-mode technology as the Chevy Tahoe, roll out in 2009. The Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen hybrids have hemi engines rated at 385 horsepower, with 6000 pound towing capacity. The hybrid powertrain has 25 percent better fuel economy than the gasoline engines it replaces.

    This year, buyers can test drive clean diesel versions of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Laredo.

    The 2009 Dodge Journey, based on the Avenger platform, will come with an available flex-fuel V6: one of three engine packages.

    The Journey combines minivan interior features with the all-terrain capability of a SUV. It has seating for five or seven passengers. Innovative storage features include two removable bins behind the front seats, and an available fold flat front passenger space with storage underneath. There is also storage under the rear cargo floor. There are four power outlets and a chill zone for cold beverages.

    The second-row seat slides fore and aft, and comes with available child booster seats. Buyers can opt for YES essentials stain resistant fabric, and a rear seat DVD system. Drivers who want to go off the beaten path can opt for an all-wheel drive model.

    Smart car

    The Mercedes-Benz smart brand makes it to America this January. The pint sized two-seater is already a fixture in Europe. Mercedes-Benz has sold 770,000 vehicles in 36 countries since the vehicle’s introduction.

    The smart fortwo will be available at seventy dealerships nationwide: the Penske Group is the official distributor. Cost is $11,590 for the base model; $13,590 for the upscale smart fortwo passion, and $16,590 for the convertible.

    The car’s three-cylinder engine runs on premium fuel but uses it sparingly, averaging 33/40 miles-per-gallon city/highway according to 2008 EPA standards. The car is 8.8 feet long: two will fit in an average parking space.

    Since the smart shares the road with much larger cars, engineers beefed up the chassis for US models: the American version has a wider front bumper, larger crash boxes, and two high-strength steel crash boxes in the rear. All cars come with standard front and side airbags, antilock brakes, electronic stability program, hill start assist and a child restraint system. Top speed is 90 miles per hour.

    Fast cars

    Nissan brings it GTR supercar to the states next June. With a starting price of $69,850, it may be the world’s cheapest race car. Riding on a handbuilt 418-horsepower six cylinder engine, the GTR accelerates from zero-to-sixty in 3.5 seconds, and goes back to zero in under 120 feet. Drivers can use on-board telemetry to monitor their skills on the track. The GTR will be available at select Nissan dealers that pass a special certification process.

    The Hyundai Genesis concept coupe goes into production for the 2009 model year, the rear-wheel drive 2 + 2 rides on a 3.8-liter V6 engine rated at over 300 horsepower, with zero-to-sixty acceleration of under six seconds. The Genesis will be available with either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission, has standard twenty-inch wheels and Brembo brakes. Hyundai hopes buyers will see the Genesis as an affordable alternative to luxury sports cars such as the Infiniti G37.

    Jaguar’s XF sedan combines the practicality of a grand tourer with the styling of a sports car according to Design Director, Ian Callum. Available with a naturally aspirated or supercharged V8, it features styling inspired by the XJ6 of the late 1960s. Pricing begins at $49,000 for the naturally aspirated car and $63,000 for the supercharged version.

    Safety first

    The third-generation V70 promises to be Volvo’s safest station wagon. Using the same engine as the automaker’s S80 luxury sedan, it also shares innovative safety offerings, including driver alert control, lane departure warning and collision warning with autobrake.

    A redesigned cargo area has aluminum rails in the cargo floor for securing large items, and a lockable storage area under the floor. Buyers can opt for a power tailgate. Pricing begins at $32,465. The advanced safety package costs $1695.

    Volvo’s C30 plug-in hybrid concept recharges uses a standard wall socket. Range is sixty miles in pure electric mode. The car has an electric motor at each wheel. When the electric power is seventy percent used up, a bioethanol engine takes over to extend the car’s range.

    The LA Auto Show runs through November 25 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

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