Chrysler ME 412 850HP sports car
The Chrysler ME 412 first debuted at the 2004 Detroit Auto Show, and this year made its appearance at the 2005 LA Auto Show. Perhaps the ultimate expression of masculine virility, it sports a V-12, 850 HP engine and can do 200 mph making it the automotive equivalent to Viagra on wheels. Obscenely powerful vehicles seemed to be the theme at both the Detroit and LA auto shows, though it is the hybrids and the hydrogen fuel cell concept cars that appear to be capturing the media's attention... thankfully.

2005 L. A. Auto Show: Hybrids, Hydrogen & Horsepower

Contributing editor Noel Adams makes his annual pilgrimage to the Mecca of auto-insanity

By Noel Adams

Attending the 2005 LA Auto Show was a new experience for me.  After 5 years of reporting on the LA Auto Show for EV World I was finally given Media accreditation, which meant I got to attend the Media days events instead of fighting the crowds on my usual Sunday morning outing.

There is a down side to this. The after-market displays in Kentia Hall are not open during Media days so I missed seeing some of the small manufacturers who are out there making electric vehicles. I was particularly disappointed to miss Commutacar who is showing their Tango 610 for the second year.

This year’s Auto Show did prove to be quite worthwhile however with the world premier of one new electric vehicle and one new fuel cell vehicle, while eight hybrids were on display.

The morning began with the Motor Press Guild Keynote address given this year by Bernd Pischetsrieder, Chairman of Volkswagen.

Mr. Pischetsrieder’s started out by saying that in his opinion the hydrogen economy was not a realistic solution to air pollution concerns. He also stated that having multiple alternative fuels is not good because it is not feasible for drivers to have to hunt around for different fuel sources such as CNG, Ethanol or Bio-diesel.

He put forward the idea that we must look to existing infrastructure to provide the solution which he suggests will be the use of synthetic fuels made from Bio sources like soy beans, or by using the gas normally burned off from oil wells in a gas to liquid fuel process.

He proposed diesel engines running on these synthetic fuels as the solution to CO2 reduction. Currently VW diesel engines don’t meet the strict California emissions standards but VW is committed to meeting the strict new standards taking effect in 2007.

Mr. Pischetsrieder also said that VW are working on a Diesel Hybrid but didn’t give any timeframe for when this might be available to the public. He also said that they were working on an engine that behaved like a diesel at low revs and like a gas engine at higher revs, combining the best qualities of the diesel and the gas engine.

With much to think about I moved on to take a look over the West Hall. As I walked into the display area I came upon the Honda exhibit. Once again Honda showed that they are a leader in low emission technology with the Insight, Civic Hybrid and Civic CNG vehicles. This year the line-up has been enhanced with the addition of the Accord Hybrid.

The Accord Hybrid looks just like the regular four door accord, the only distinguishing feature being a small plate that reads Hybrid sitting just above the Accord sign on the rear of the car. Under the hood however it’s a different story. Added to the Accords V6 engine is Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system. Like the Civic Hybrid this system provides assistance when the car needs to accelerate and helps recapture energy through regenerative braking when the car slows down. To boost economy the car also provides displacement on demand, shutting down three cylinders when cruising on the highway.

The Accord Hybrid offers more power than the standard Accord while getting very respectable EPA mileage numbers of 29 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway.

This year Honda did not have their Fuel Cell vehicle on display, which may be an indication that some of the Automobile Manufacturers are beginning to have a more realistic timeframe for the hydrogen economy.

Next door to Honda was the Ford exhibit, which seemed to be totally dominated by huge trucks. I think that this was partly because they had built a stage to hold the introduction of the new Mustang Convertible. I took a seat on the bleachers that surrounded the stage while the PA system cranked out Mustang Sally. A Ford representative came on stage and talked about the success of the new Mustang Coupe then introduced Diana Degamo who entertained the crowed while the new Mustang Convertible was driven on-stage. I am a big fan on convertibles and the Mustang Convertible is a very good-looking car. If only it had a hybrid power train.

Missing from the Ford Display were the Focus and the Thunderbird and there was only one Taurus and one Mustang Coupe.

This year Ford did have an Escape Hybrid on display. The Escape Hybrid’s power train allows the electric motor to move the car for short distances while the gas engine is off while providing a boost during acceleration and recapturing energy by regenerative braking. This gives the Escape HEV a respectable EPA rating of 36mpg in the city, and 31mpg on the highway.

I moved on to the Nissan display and was once again disappointed by their lack of promotion for their Eco friendly products. They were the first company to get a PZEV certification from the California Air Resource Board but they don’t seem to want the word out that they have ultra clean vehicles available. There was also no sign of the Altima Hybrid vehicle rumored to be in the line-up for a 2006 release.

Mercedes and Dodge were also very disappointing. There was no sign of the Hybrid Ram truck at the dodge stand, just the same old huge trucks and SUVs. Mercedes does have some very nice cars as befits it’s luxury car status, but there was no indication of it’s hybrid Sprinter van, the all electric A class Mercedes that is being tested right here in Southern California, or the Smart which is rumored will be introduced into the US market in 2007.

Kia did have an expanded display this year, which is an indication of the growth of the Korean car manufacturer. I am sure that we are going to see much more of the Koreans in the future. Kia is just getting a footing in the US market however so they don’t have any alternative fuel vehicles at the moment.

Next I moved on to the Concourse Hall. Concourse Hall is where they display all the exotic sports cars. I walked by the display of Morgan and Lotus, glad to see that these venerable British marques are still available here in the USA.

One of the big differences in attending media days is that you get to walk around and examine expensive cars like Ferrari and Lamborghini up close instead of looking at them from behind a rope. These are sleek sexy cars that are well beyond the average writer’s pocketbook, but it is fun to drool over them.

One such car was being launched at this years LA Auto Show. The Venturi Fetish is a sleek two-seat open top sports car with lift up doors similar to those on a Lamborghini. What makes this different from the other sports cars is that is it an all-electric sports car. The car uses the AC 150 drive train built by AC Propulsion in San Dimas. The car has a 0-60 time under 5 seconds and a top speed of a little over 100mph. Its Li Ion battery pack that gives it a range of 200 miles in mixed city and freeway driving.

Noted racecar driver Gildo Pallanca Pastor, now retired from the track, is the CEO of Monaco based Venturi. I had a chance to talk to him at length about their plans for the car.

He explained that Fetish, in French, is something you carry that brings you luck.

They only intend to produce 25 vehicles and will be selling them in Los Angeles, Monaco and Tokyo. They already have the car certified for Europe and are working to get DOT certification here in the USA. They expect to have this process complete by the end of this year.

The car will sell for about $600,000 here in Los Angeles so it is not for mere mortals. They do not have any firm orders yet but do have three people interested in test-driving the car. The great looks, neck snapping acceleration, eco-friendliness, and rarity value of this car will give the Fetish great appeal for some people so I expect them to sell all 25. I could certainly see me cruising Rodeo Drive in one of these even if it would give my accountant a heart attack.

Reluctantly leaving the Fetish, I moved on to the South Hall where I walked straight into the Hummer exhibit. Environmentalists consider the Hummer to be the poster child for the kind of conspicuous consumption that is burning oil reserves faster than new reserves can be found.

I did find an exhibit on the Hydrogen Hummer. There was a nice little fenced off area and a video monitor showing Governor Schwarzenegger opening the hydrogen fueling station at LAX in the “Green” Hummer”. The SUV itself was missing however. I can only assume that it will be put in place before the general public is admitted.

I decided to start out at the BMW display, which, along with the regular BMW sedans, SUV and sports cars had their hydrogen powered concept vehicle. BMW are not jumping on the fuel cell bandwagon like most of the other automobile manufacturers. They believe that the best way to move to the hydrogen economy is to burn the hydrogen in an internal combustion engine. Their hydrogen concept car, a streamlined aluminum bodied sports car, does just this.

The car uses the 12-cylinder power plant from the BMW 7 series, with a displacement of 6 Liters, running on liquid hydrogen. It develops 285 horsepower and has a top speed of 186.5 mph.

BMW plan to offer a dual fuel version of the 7 series, capable of running on either hydrogen or gasoline. This will give the owner fueling options until the hydrogen infrastructure catches up and becomes universally available. They did not give a timeframe for this vehicle.

While at the BMW stand I also checked out the new Mini convertible. My first real car was a 1967 Mini Van so I always feel somewhat nostalgic looking at the Mini. The convertible has been done quite nicely for such a small car. Rear leg room is very limited but oh how nice to be cruising Pacific Coast Highway with the top down.

From BWM I moved on to the Volkswagen stand for a look at the new Jetta. The representative from Volkswagen said that they had increased the size of the Jetta slightly to provide more legroom in the back. The vehicle did look bigger to me but the spec sheet they gave out showed the size as identical to the current model.

I asked if they would be selling the 2006 diesel Jetta in Calfornia and the VW representative told me that this model would not meet California’s strict air quality standards so it would not be sold in this state or in the five other states that have adopted California’s air quality laws. He said, “Volkswagen is committed to meeting California’s 2007 air quality standards”.

I also asked about the use of bio-diesel and he told me, “the type of bio-diesel currently available in the USA was too acidic and could cause corrosion in the engine”. They do not recommend that bio-diesel be used in the Jetta TDI.

Moving on from Volkswagen I walked over to the Lexus stand to take a peek at the new Lexus 400H Hybrid.

The Silver Lexus 400H was sitting on a raised platform so I couldn’t get in to take a close look. From the outside it looks similar to the RX 300 but under the hood is a V6 Engine coupled with Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive. Lexus claim that this SUV will have the performance of the regular V6 with a zero to sixty time under eight seconds, while delivering the economy of an average four cylinder sedan. Actual EPA mileage numbers were not available, but they did say that this SUV will be rated as a Super Ultra low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV) when it goes on sale towards the end of March.

With more pre-orders for this SUV than for any other Lexus vehicle, this is going to be a hot seller in 2005.

Lexus also introduced their LF-S concept vehicle. This is a four-door luxury sedan that seats 5. This car has a hybrid power train, V8 engine and all wheel drive.

Moving on from the Lexus display I went over to the Toyota stand. Front and center in the Toyota stand were two Prius. The second generation Prius has just entered its second year of production and has already outsold the first generation of vehicles. Toyota plans to bring 100,000 of these hybrids into the US in 2005.

I moved over towards the Toyota SUVs and was surprised to see a silver Highlander HEV. I had been told by a contact at Toyota that they were trying hard to get a Highlander hybrid for the LA Auto show but it was unlikely they would have enough to do both LA and Detroit and Detroit would win out. It too was on a raised platform so I wasn’t able to get a good look inside but the hood was open and I could clearly see the Toyota Synergy Drive components.

The Highlander SUV is going to have characteristics similar to the Lexus 400H with a V6 engine and hybrid synergy drive giving it a zero to sixty under eight seconds with outstanding fuel economy. Like the Lexus 400H it will also be rated as SULEV.

The Highlander Hybrid is expected in showrooms around the middle of the year.

I continued on to the Chrysler exhibit and again met with disappointment. I had heard that they would have the 2005 GEM on display but couldn’t find one among the collection of large trucks and SUVs. I suppose they could be displaying them down in Kentia Hall but it does beg the question how much is Daimler/Chrysler committed to the GEM?

Next stop was at the GM stand where they were going to announce several new vehicles. Chevrolet kicked off the announcements and GM really brought out the big guns. Gary Cowger, President of GM North America, presented the new Chevrolet models.

First out was a small SUV, the HHR, based on the Chevy Cobalt platform. Chevrolet has obviously been going for the retro trend that has been a trend in vehicle design for the past few years. This SUV fuses elements from the 1949 Suburban with the SSR roadster. It is intended to be customizable and they did also show a highly customized version. Unfortunately, it looks too much like a PT Cruiser for my tastes.

The HHR comes with a 2.2 or 2.4 liter 4 cylinder engine and either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy has not been determined yet.

Next up were the Chevy Malibu, and Chevy Impala, both of which have been upgraded with more powerful engine. The only thing of interest in these announcements was that the top of the line power plant, the 5.3-liter V8, would come with displacement on demand, shutting down cylinders while cruising to conserve fuel. Fuel economy measures for these two cars have not yet been determined.

Following the Chevrolet announcements, Bob Lutz, Chairman of GM North America came on stage to do the Pontiac announcements. Pontiac announced the Torrent, a mid-sized SUV. The Torrent is powered by a V6 engine and is rated at 19 mpg in the city and 25mpg on the highway; not bad for an SUV in this class.

Pontiac also announced the G6 coupe and convertible. These vehicles come with a 3.5L V6 or a 3.9L V6. Projected fuel economy is 19 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway for the 3.5L engine dropping to 18 mpg in the city and 24 mph on the highway for the 3.9L. This is about average for vehicles with engines of this size.

I liked the G6 convertible, which comes with a retractable hard top that lowers with the push of a button. Once again it’s too bad that this car doesn’t come with a hybrid power train to boost fuel economy.

My last stop of the day was at the Hyundai stand for the unveiling of the new Tucson SUEV. Their presentation started out with a quick overview of Hyundai’s growth in the US market. In particular they talked about their customer retention rate where 55% of Hyundai customers are repeat buyers, placing them fourth in the US market, below Toyota, Lexus and Chevrolet, in this category.

Then they unveiled the Tucson Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle, which on the outside, looks very much like the regular Tucson. This is their second-generation fuel cell vehicle and shows many improvements over the earlier Santa Fe FCEV. The fuel tank has been increased in size to hold 152 liters of hydrogen at 5000 psi giving the Tucson FCEV a range of 186 miles. The Tucson FCEV also has a 152V Li polymer battery pack. Peak output is rated at 80KW, five more KW of power than its predecessor. Its maximum speed is 93mph.

The biggest breakthrough in the Tucson FCEV however is the ability to start in freezing temperatures. The vehicle has been tested to start reliably at –20C.

Hyundai expects to place some Tucson FCEV vehicles into fleets for testing in California starting in the second quarter of 2005. Hyundai America Technical Center, AC Transit of Oakland, California and Southern California Edison will eventually participate in these tests.

The 2005 LA Auto Show has been one of the best in recent years. The introduction of a new battery electric vehicle is always something to celebrate and this is the second year in a row that we have seen such an announcement. This year I saw eight hybrid vehicles from four manufacturers where last year we had only three. Five of these hybrids are available now and two others will be available by June.

The US manufacturers are loosing ground quickly to the foreign competition. Only Ford seems to have caught on to the fact that we need to make our vehicle fleets more fuel-efficient and less polluting. I did see some encouraging signs however. While several manufacturers, including Jeep, showed huge SUVs obviously designed to compete with the Hummer, new vehicle launches from both GM and Ford were mostly new or redesigned sedans and small SUVs. GM looks like it is going to try displacement on demand again so they may finally be getting the message about the need to improve fuel economy.

I think that the next few years are going to see more interesting developments in the automobile industry and I can’t wait for the 2006 LA Auto Show.

Times Article Viewed: 13456
Published: 17-Jan-2005


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