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Saturn Sky concept car
They might be 'Sleepless in Seattle,' but this reporter is disappointed in LA whose annual auto show boasted few environmentally-responsible vehicles, though he was taken with the new Saturn Sky concept two-seater.

Disappointed in LA

Report on the 2003 Los Angeles Auto Show

By Noel Adams

Driving east on the 10 Freeway towards the LA Convention Center I was struck with how clear the air was that warm Sunday morning. I could clearly see the Hollywood sign; a rare occurrence in smog-bound Los Angeles.

Clear conditions like this are not due to any improvements in vehicle emissions, but to the Santa Anna winds that push the pollution out over the ocean. I was hoping to find trends at the Auto Show that would help to keep the air clear. What I found was a mixed bag, but there were a few items that still gave me hope for a clean air future.

On arriving at the Convention Center, my first stop was the West Hall and the Ford exhibit. Gone was the Th!nk display that stood at the entrance to the West Hall for the last two years. In its place was the Segway stand. There were no vehicles there so I moved on to the Ford exhibit.

As If to make up for its much-publicized exit from the electric vehicle business, Ford featured the PZEV version of the Focus. To obtain Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) certification a car must have Super Ultra Low Emissions (SULEV), zero evaporative emissions, and the whole emissions system must come with a fifteen year 150,000 mile warranty. All Focuses sold in California, Massachusetts and New York will be PZEV. According to Christine at the Ford display, the PZEV Focus should start appearing in dealerships this spring.

I was disappointed that Ford was not showing a version of its highly anticipated Escape Hybrid. Given that they plan to start selling to fleets in 2003 and to the general public in 2004 I was very surprised that they didn't have one on show.

Ford also had a CNG version of its F150 truck. Although it was at the front of the Ford display I walked right by it at first thinking it was just another big truck. Unfortunately, by the time I realized what it was, there was nobody nearby who could tell me if it would be made available to the public any time soon.

Honda also had a CNG vehicle on display, the Honda Civic GX. This vehicle has the California Air Resource Board (CARB) PZEV certification and is now available to the general public. The Honda stand also featured the Honda Insight Hybrid and the Civic Hybrid, both of which appeared to be getting quite a bit of attention.

They also had one of their fuel cell vehicles on display. This was one of the vehicles that Honda is leasing to the City of Los Angeles. If looks very like the Honda EV+, which comes as no surprise since Honda are recycling returned EV+ vehicles into their fuel cell program.

I was happy to see that Honda was featuring its environmentally friendly vehicles prominently in its display.

The Nissan stand was disappointing, as they didn't have a Sentra CA on display. They didn't even have anything to indicate that they would be selling a PZEV certified vehicle in the near future. Nissan have delivered about 100 Altra EVs this year but they did not bother to show either the Altra or the Hypermini.

The new Mini Cooper at the BMW stand was drawing a lot of attention, as was the convertible version of the VW bug. Although neither of these vehicles is a particularly low emission they are both quite fuel-efficient compared to most American cars.

On my way out of the West Hall I stopped by the Segway exhibit again. This time there was a young lady demonstrating the vehicles capabilities by maneuvering it up and down a slope and round ninety-degree corners. She told me that she had spent three hours on the machine last September, then only needed a few minutes before stating the demo to get reacquainted with the scooter. Someone in the audience asked her if she could operate it hands-free and she was able to move it back and forth a little without holding the handlebars.

I consider the Segway to be a classic example of over-engineering but I have to say that it is quite impressive, if somewhat pricey, technology.

Next I stopped by the Porsche display. They seemed to have dedicated the bulk of their exhibit to their new SUV. When a sports car manufacturer like Porsche starts to manufacture an SUV it is time to start looking for the next big trend in automobiles. I found their SUV to be somewhat undistinguished.

Leaving the Porsche stand I walked past the James Bond Aston Martin display and into Concourse hall in search of Panoz. I was hoping they would bring along a version of the Smart EV. I was unable to find Panoz at all and did not see anything that closely resembled a Smart.

Disappointed again I moved on to the South Hall and the Toyota display. This proved to be another disappointment. Most conspicuous by its absence was the RAV4 EV. This makes me think that the rumors about the 2003 batch being almost sold out are true. I was equally disappointed that I couldn't find a version of their Fuel Cell vehicle. They garnered a lot of publicity by putting the FCV Highlander into service last year so I though they might have had one on show.

The Prius was also relegated to one vehicle hidden in the back of the display. I almost missed it as I walked through the display. I could speculate that this indicates that the Prius is selling as fast as Toyota is building them so they have no need to hype them any more.

The GM stand came as somewhat of a surprise. While most of the other car companies appear to be featuring more and more trucks, GM appear to be moving back to the sedan. They were the only company that had a significant number of concept cars on show, and most of these, including a cute two seater from Saturn called the Sky, were cars.

Buried in the back of the hall was the Hy-Wire concept FCV. This vehicle, which features the skateboard design with changeable body and drive by wire, made a big stir a couple of years ago. They did not have the Autonomy however which was probably reserved for the Detroit auto show.

On my way out of the South Hall I passed the Chrysler exhibit and found that they had four GEM vehicles on display. Two of the vehicles were aftermarket modification by performance West Group while the other two were the standard four passenger and long bed truck versions. Colin from Hacienda Chrysler-Jeep told me that they had a selection of 2001 and 2002 vehicles on sale with prices starting as low as $2500 for the two passenger and $3500 for the four passenger.

My last stop was at Kentia Hall where, for the last three years, there has been the display of alterative fuel vehicles. This year the display was absent. I did find an EV1 that was being displayed by the Los Angeles County Environmental programs Project Pollution Prevention. Unfortunately nobody was manning the booth.

I also found a hydrogen powered Shelby Cobra. It was part of a display put on by the College of the Desert. It was a standard Cobra with the engine modified to run on hydrogen supplied from a large tank that took up most of the trunk space. Once again there was nobody manning the booth to answer questions.

In previous years I had found displays of NEVs and electric "Vespa" style scooters. This year all I found was a company called Severe Scooter that had three electric "Zappy"-style scooters mixed in with its gas powered models.

The after-market upgraders seemed to be concentrating on SUVs and the Hummer H2 could be seen on quite a few stands. There was also one company that had fitted suspension extenders onto an H2 so that it was as high as a semi. Imagine trying to get under the swing arm at the entrance to the mall parking lot.

From the environmental prospective this years LA Auto Show was the most disappointing I have seen in the last few years. The emphasis on huge trucks continues although nobody had tried to top the Hummer H2. There was a distinct move towards bigger, more powerful engines, the rebirth of the muscle car in the form of the Pontiac GTO, and the prospects of a V16 Cadillac.

There was still much to encourage me however. There seems to be a trend starting towards more crossover vehicles. These more economical vehicles, based on car chassis, may soon replace the monster truck as the vehicle of choice for many Americans.

I was also happy to see Ford introducing the PZEV Focus. It should produce significantly fewer pollutants than the previous version of the Focus. This car is a direct result California's ZEV mandate and should have the positive impact on pollution that was the long-term intent of this legislation.

I will be looking forward to next years LA Auto Show in the hope that we will see more PZEVs, more Hybrids, and with any luck, a BEV or two.

Times Article Viewed: 6166
Published: 11-Jan-2003

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