Car Industry Falls Short of Green Aspirations at LA Auto Show

L.A.'s car showcase underscores that the government needs to help automakers in the drive to make eco-friendly vehicles.

Published: 14-Nov-2007

Porsche—a company associated with environmental friendliness like Wilt Chamberlain is with prim chastity—is going green. On the company's stand at the Los Angeles Auto Show (starting Friday) is a front-wheel-drive, zero-emission electric car. One version of the car is a series-hybrid -- the gas engine doesn't turn the wheels but, rather, charges the batteries -- and features all-wheel drive. Very cutting-edge stuff.

The car is a Lohner-Porsche, circa 1900, built by automotive pioneer Ferdinand Porsche and the Lohner coachworks in Vienna. Porsche AG has conscripted the car from its museum in order to establish the company's bona fides as it introduces the Porsche Cayenne hybrid concept, the gas-electric version of its urban trailblazer. Setting aside the Cayenne hybrid's technical merits for a moment, we should ask: Why didn't the all-wheel-drive series-hybrid version of the Lohner-Porsche succeed?

For reasons, it turns out, that sound familiar to us today. The vehicle was complex and costly; the batteries -- over a ton of lead-acid -- were not sufficiently "energy dense," which is to say their electrical output was canceled out by their weight and bulk. Over a century later, as the world awaits salvation from the curse of its own oil-based mobility, automakers cite these same drawbacks in explaining why plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and electric vehicles (EVs) are not ready for primetime. And these are not the ogres of Detroit. This is Honda, Toyota and Nissan. Batteries remain the critical and highly contested component, the as-yet imperfect technology upon which the future of the automobile depends.

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