LA 2014: Annual Auto Show Review - Part 2
By Noel Adams
Thursday morning was somewhat brighter than Wednesday but the traffic was just as bad so it was another 20mph crawl into downtown LA for the second day of the LA Auto Show. [Click here for Day One coverage]
Thursday is a much more leisurely day than Wednesday with fewer press conferences and more time to just wander around. I found that the first presentation of the day, the California State Legislator of the Year Award, had been cancelled so I had plenty of time to eat breakfast before the start of the Green Car of the Year award.
This year the finalists for the Green Car of the Year award included a Diesel, a gas-CNG bi-fuel, two compact gas cars, and an all-electric car. The five finalists were the Audi A3 TDI, the Chevy Impala bi-Fuel, the Honda Fit, the VW Golf, and the BMW i3.
In the past Green Car Journal, who gives out the award, has tended to favor Diesel cars so I was fully expecting the award to go to the Audi but to my surprise and delight the award went to the BMW i3. In the words of Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of Green Car Journal, “BMW’s i3 is a milestone vehicle in many respects and illustrates the automaker’s expansive vision of future motoring”.
This year was definitely the year for BMW i. I learned later in the day that the i8 had received both the Motor Press Guild’s 2014 Innovation of the Year Award for vehicles over $30,000 and Autoblog’s 2014 Technology Car of the Year award.
I decided to skip the Acura press conference and make my way to the West Hall to see what Fiat had to offer.
Acura’s big reveal was the redesign of the IXL which should be in showrooms early in 2015. The IXL is a four door sedan that is powered by a 2.4 liter 4 cylinder engine that can produce 201hp and 180 lb-ft of torque. Power is transmitted to the wheels via an 8 speed dual clutch automatic transmission.
Fiat is one of the most anti-EV car companies so I wasn’t expecting much but their press conferences are always entertaining so I found a nice seat where I could watch the action and see what they had to reveal.
President and CEO of Fiat Brand in America Olivier Francois started out by showing the first original wood mold for the Fiat 500 from 1956 then unveiled the next vehicle to be built on the current Fiat 500 platform, the 500X.
One of the videos that Fiat showed implied that the 500X is a Fiat 500 on Viagra. The car is a compact crossover vehicle and the first four-wheel drive vehicle from Fiat. It comes with a choice of either a turbocharged 1.6 liter engine that produces 160hp coupled to a 6 speed manual transmission or a 2.4 Liter 180hp power plant coupled to a 9 speed automatic. An all-wheel drive option will also be offered.
My next stop was in the Concourse Hall which is the home of the high performance sports cars. It’s lost a little of its luster in recent years since Ferrari no longer attends the LA Auto Show and Maserati, Bentley, and Rolls Royce now show their cars in the main halls. Still, there was Aston Martin, and Morgan there to spice things up. My main reason for going there though was to go see what Henrik Fisker, in conjunction with Galpin Auto Sports, were going to reveal. They showed off a carbon fiber bodied version of the Ford Mustang that they are going to call the Rocket. Then I got distracted.
Over in the corner was a display that looked distinctly out of place, there was a couple of cars that looked like pretty commonplace sedans and what looked like a golf cart. When I got closer I did notice that the display also included a hot sports car. The stand belonged to Mullen and the two sedans looked remarkably like the CODA.
The sports car turned out to be the Mullen GT. It’s a carbon fiber bodied high performance car that features a supercharged motor and a 0-60 time of just over 3 seconds.
The golf cart like vehicle was a NEV called the Mullen 100e. The rep at the Mullen stand told me that the 100e was capable of 50mph but to be marketed in the US as a NEV it will need to be limited to 25mph. Since it is a fully enclosed NEV that seats two it could be upgraded to a top speed of 35mph in those states that support medium speed vehicles. It is powered by maintenance free lead acid batteries with an expected range of about 30 miles on a charge. The car retails at a base price of just $6,995
The two sedans were both the same model, the Mullen 700e. The 700e is actually a rebirth of the old Coda Sedan. Mullen appear to have made some tweaks to the trim on this car to make it look less out-of-date but it is still a pretty boring looking car. Under the hood though is a different story. The Mullen 700e is powered by a 31 KWh lithium iron phosphate battery pack that will push the car to a top speed of 85mph. Mullen claims that the car will do up to 180 miles on a full charge but that seems highly optimistic to me, I would expect about 130 miles per charge in real world driving. Still better than just about any EV on the market today except for Tesla. Price starts at around $39,900.
This year the green car ride and drive had been changed to the Green and Advanced Technology Ride and Drive which allowed such vehicles as the new Ford F150 to participate. Pickings were slim for Green car enthusiasts. When I got down to the ride and drive area I found that the Tucson Fuel Cell car was already fully booked up and most of the plug-in cars I wanted to drive were not included. There was no Kia Soul EV, no VW e-Golf, and no Smart EV. One car I really wanted to drive was the Fiat 500e and they did have a car for me to test drive.
When I got into the tiny 500e the lady from Fiat handed me a key. This is unusual for electric car, most use smart keys. So I went old school, put my foot on the brake, turned the key, and watch the car come noiselessly alive. I found the seats on the 500e to be a little uncomfortable but that sometimes means I just didn’t have enough time to fiddle with it to get it just right.
I hit the accelerator and pointed the car towards the exit. I slowly made my way out of the Convention Center and turned Left onto Figuroa Street. The Lady from Fiat, who was riding along with me, asked if I wanted the short, medium of long route. I opted for the long route which would take us for about three miles around downtown LA. I think I must have been the first person of the day to take this route because we ended up getting lost. This was actually quite good for me because it meant that I had to do some quick lane changes and ended up driving quite a bit further than expected.
The car accelerated quite briskly although I was in LA traffic so I couldn’t floor it to see how quickly it would take off but it still felt like it had plenty of pep. The steering was light and responsive and the car felt very agile. The 500e has a very compact instrument cluster with the speedometer in the center and to the left is an indicator that shows how you are driving. Accelerating gently keeps this gage in the green but if you accelerate hard it goes red. When you take your foot off the accelerator the indicator goes blue to indicate regenerative braking. Regenerative braking is quite gentle until you step on the brake pedal.
While I wouldn’t recommend the Fiat 500e as the family vehicles it should make a very good commuter especially in locations like San Francisco where parking is very tight. The small size allows you to park in places that others only dream about. Fiat do have their Pass program that allows someone who purchases or leases a 500e before January 31, 2015 up to 12 days of free car rental per year for three years.
Finally I recognized where I was and took a right turn to head back toward the Convention Center. Unfortunately I arrived just a little bit too late to make the Mitsubishi Press conference.
I had specifically wanted to attend the Mitsubishi press conference because they were going to show a new Plug-in Hybrid concept car.
What they showed turned out to be a two door crossover with very aggressive styling called the XR-PHEV. Under the covers is a 3 cylinder 1.1 liter engine that can deliver 134hp coupled to a 161hp electric motor powered from a 14 KWh lithium ion battery pack. All electric range was not available but based on the size of the battery pack I would expect a range of about 35 miles on a charger.
The message from Mitsubishi was that they plan to stay in the US Market and will focus on plug-in hybrids going forward.
My consolation prize for missing the Mitsubishi press conference was a test drive of the 2014 Cadillac ELR. Going from the tiny Fiat 500e to the much bigger more luxurious Cadillac was quite a jar. Like the Fiat 500e the ELR is a two door vehicle and one of the first things I noticed is that access into the back seat was very cramped and while there was a lot more leg room in the back than there was in the Fiat 500e the back seat still looked like it would be pretty uncomfortable even for a small adult like me.
The front seats were a different story. There seemed to be knobs and buttons everywhere so it took me a few minutes of fiddling to get comfortable but comfortable I was. It’s been a long time since I drove a caddy and the ride back then was overly soft. Not anymore. The ELR’s ride was firm and extremely smooth. The battery still had plenty of its 35 miles of range left so I completed the circuit of down town LA using electric only. Acceleration was smooth but since we were in congested city streets there was no opportunity to mash the accelerator to see how it would take off.
My biggest impression was the huge size of the navigation screen compared to the dinky little screen in my Prius. Navigation wasn’t really needed for the drive around downtown LA though. Last time I drove a Cadillac the power steering felt loose and only vaguely connected to the wheels but in the ELR power steering was light and responsive. Overall the driving experience was very enjoyable and I walked away with an EV Smile.
After I had finished my test drive I grabbed a quick bite to eat then walked over to the Toyota stand. They didn’t have a press conference this year but they did have a couple of their new Mirai Fuel Cell Vehicle. The Mirai is due to go on sale late next year and will be the first fuel cell vehicle from a major manufacturer that someone can actually buy not just lease. Toyota says that they already have orders for 200 cars but plan to sell a total 3,000 of them by the end of 2017. Price will start at about $57,500. The Mirai is expected to have a range 300 miles on a full tank of hydrogen. Further details are expected at the Detroit Auto Show.
Toyota also had an all-electric car on display, the three wheel i-Road. In the US, as a fully enclosed three wheel vehicle, it would technically be designated a motor-cycle. It has seating for two sitting in tandem and is designed to lean into corners which does make it more motorcycle like than car like. The i-Road is currently being tested in Japan and has a top speed of 30mph and a 30 mile range which places it squarely in the urban commuter vehicle category; basically a NEV. So far there is no indication that Toyota will sell this trike in the US.
Finally I took a swing around Kentia Hall where the after-market vendors were setting up but this year there was no small electric vehicle maker showing their products. So I headed back to the car for the drive home.
This year saw the auto industry moving back toward the SUV. That shouldn’t be a shock. SUVs are money makers and with cheap gas there are plenty of customers that are ready to jump back into a gas guzzler. What is good is that more manufacturers are starting to add plug-in hybrids to their line-up and many of the SUVs that were being shown were in the compact category and so still offer reasonable fuel economy.
It does look like more manufacturers are looking to show their plug-in cars in Detroit rather than in LA which means that plug-in cars are becoming more important on a global basis. Hopefully we will continue to see the growth of plug-in models over the coming year.
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