The EVs of Omaha 2011

By Bill Moore

Posted: 21 Jan 2011

Yesterday I was on a mission. Find two electric cars at the 2011 Omaha Auto Show: the Chevrolet Volt and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. They were the first EVs to be shown at our annual winter car carnival now held in the sprawling 17,000 square feet exhibit area of the Qwest Center. They were not, however, the first EVs to grace the hall. That distinction falls to Chinese carmaker BYD, who, through their association with Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, have been part of the investment group's annual shareholder convention the last two years.

Still, I have to say it was both exhilarating and highly gratifying to see both the Volt and the i-MiEV included in the show. I took a few minutes to ask early visitors to the show, most of whom were gray beards and silver hairs like me, what they thought of these vehicles. Most were curious, some intrigued; the general sense being that this is the direction we have to go, though I got the sense that few of them would be willing to buy one, with the exception of a couple who wanted to know about the Volt's availability in Omaha. Short answer: it won't be; not for at least 18 months a local Chevy salesman intimated to me.

Somewhat disappointingly, the i-MiEV was sat somewhat forlornly at the back of the hall and no one was around to answer questions, either from me or the few folks who wondered by to take a peek inside the right-hand drive model.

There were hybrids aplenty, however. Toyota, Ford, GM, Lexus. A salesman for Lexus told me that when it comes to their hybrid models, they can't keep the 600h on the floor; virtually all are sold before they arrive. Less successful is the 250h, which, in the words of the salesman, just isn't exciting.

Over in the Lincoln exhibit area, near the main entrance, were a pair of MKZ's: one a hybrid, the other not. Their window stickers tell an amazing story (see photos below). Both have a base price of $34,330. Apart from their colors, the most striking difference is their EPA-rated fuel economy. The MKZ Hybrid is rated 41 mpg in the city, 36 mpg on the highway. Its non-hybrid sibling is rated 18 city, 27 highway. Both are priced identical.

I asked a lady looking at the Hybrid version which she would buy?

"The hybrid, of course."

I should also note that a couple of Ford representatives took time to show me the MyFord Touch vehicle information system on a new Ford Explorer. It's an amazing system that deserves a write up all its own.

The surprise discovery of the trip was a Vectrix VX-1 maxiscooter on display in the BMW Motorcycles of Omaha area. Jim Gaston, the general manager, explained it was one of three the company acquired in August 2008, two months before Vectrix declared bankruptcy. They sold one to a local resident, and are trying to get rid of this one for $5,000; which would be a bargain IF the battery has been kept charged and the software updated; once the company began imploding due to horrible mismanagement, service support was the first to suffer. BMW Motorcycles of Omaha are keeping one the three for their personal use and when the weather warms, they've agreed to let me stop by for a spin.

My final observation was what it feels like to be involved in a 5 mph collision. The local Bellevue police had a slide on hand that lets you experience the forces impacting your body at just above walking speed. You climb onto the sled, strap yourself into the car seat and then the officer releases the catch. You slide 12-15 feet at about a 15-20% angle and then hit the restraining bumper at the bottom. The jolt you feel is startling and quit impressive for having moved such a short distance. If you wear dentures, it could knock them loose. Certainly it would sent your eye glasses flying, which is why you have to remove them before climbing aboard.

While the Omaha auto show lacks the flair and panache of Detroit or LA -- there are no long-legged beauties in revealing evening wear -- it certainly gives potential car buyers the opportunity to see a lot of vehicles in one location, and promisingly this year it includes some electrics.

Omaha Auto Show 2011 Photos

Chevy Volt on display at 2011 Omaha Auto Show
Chevy Volt on display at 2011 Omaha Auto Show

Mitsubishi i-MiEV electri car sits forlornly at back of 2011 Omaha Auto Show
Mitsubishi i-MiEV electri car sits forlornly at back of 2011 Omaha Auto Show

Silver hairs inspect 2011 Toyota Prius sticker
Silver hairs inspect 2011 Toyota Prius sticker

Jim Gaston with lone Vectrix VX-1 electric motor scooter
Jim Gaston with lone Vectrix VX-1 electric motor scooter

2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid sticker
2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid sticker

2011 Lincoln MKZ sticker
Note the fuel economy rating difference in this non-hybrid MKZ

EV World publisher Bill Moore after 5 mph crash on simulation sled.
EV World publisher Bill Moore after 5 mph crash on simulation sled

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