The 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show proves that automakers are continuing the push toward leaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles. But cracks are beginning to form in the move toward greener mobility. On one side are hybrids, cars that combine a small displacement (usually gasoline-powered) engine with an electric motor for increased economy. Now along come the upstarts, fully electric-powered vehicles that promise emissions-free driving and the end of fuel stops.
The diversity of eco-minded vehicles is dizzying—and so are the arguments for and against hybrids and electrics. Fuel savings offered by some hybrids don't always outweigh the higher sticker price. And electrics might offer zero-emissions driving, but they're limited by range and the availability of charging stations. Moreover, let's not forget that some sources of electricity are much cleaner than others. Whatever the future might hold, these are our top picks for new and environmentally friendly cars at the 2010 L.A. Auto Show:
The Los Angeles Auto Show is the home turf, of sorts, for the electric Coda sedan. Developed in California, the front-wheel-drive Coda is powered by a 134-hp electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack. The humdrum styling won't bowl you over, even though it was penned by the Italian design house Pininfarina. The grille-less nose is about all that distinguishes this anonymous-looking sedan. But a driving range of 90-120 miles is competitive with competition from automakers many times the size of tiny Coda.
Unfortunately, the biggest news surrounding Coda here in L.A. is the surprise departure of the company's CEO, Kevin Czinger. Also of concern is the approximate $44,000 asking price for the base Coda sedan. That's significantly higher than other electrics coming to market, not to mention well-proven hybrids such as the Toyota Prius and Ford Fusion Hybrid.
The Nissan Leaf will be the first of a new breed of fully electric vehicles to come from a mainstream automaker. Sales begin next month and ramp up through 2011. Electric cars have come and gone since the dawn of the automobile, but Nissan and sister company, Renault, are betting that electric vehicles are finally here to stay. Based on the conservative looks of the Leaf, it definitely won't fall victim to rapid changes in fashion. The 4-door hatchback looks unremarkable, which could actually ease the fears of car buyers already wary of the technology lurking within an electric car.
In the case of the Leaf, you'll find a 107-hp electric motor and 600 lb. of lithium-ion batteries ( ancillaries). Range is expected to be around 100 miles, dependent largely on driving conditions. Using a normal 110-volt outlet, recharging the Leaf can take a whopping 17 hours—although this drops to more reasonable 5.5 hours when using a 220-volt outlet. The price for a Leaf starts at $32,780, but there is a $7500 federal tax credit.
Mitsubishi "i" powered by MiEV
Now here's an electric that looks like a car from the future. But believe it or not, the strange-looking Mitsubishi "i" has been sold for years in Japan as a gasoline-powered minicar. The larger U.S.-spec electric version shown at Los Angeles, the "i" powered by MiEV (yes, that's its official name here in the U.S.), arrives next year as a 2012 model. Although it's bigger and wider than the Japanese version, its EV technology is mostly carryover from the model sold in Japan.
The U.S. "i" is a little more than 11 inches longer and 4 inches wider. A lithium-ion battery pack resides beneath the cabin, while the electric motor, inverter and other components are located below and behind the rear passenger seats. A realistic driving range of 50 to 80 miles is likely, for now. The price for the 2012 Mitsubishi "i" powered by MiEV is expected to fall around $30,000. As with the Leaf, there will be a $7500 federal tax credit and other state incentives.
Honda Fit EV
The is all-electric. It uses a lithium-ion battery pack and a coaxial electric motor that's similar to the unit in the . In the Fit, which is smaller, this motor can propel the car to a top speed of 90 mph. Range is estimated to be between 100 miles when using the EPA's LA4 city cycle and 70 miles after applying the EPA's adjustment factor. To help improve range (or to sacrifice range for performance), the driver will be able to select from three different modes. As in the CR-Z, these modes are Sport, Normal and Econ. In Econ mode, says range can be extended 17 percent higher than in Normal, and 25 percent higher than in Sport. In Sport mode, the acceleration performance is claimed to be similar to that of a Fit with a 2.0-liter gasoline engine.Perhaps more important than physical range, the Fit EV can help coach the driver to develop range-extending driving habits by an interactive coaching system built into the dash. There's even a meter on the dash that will inform the driver when to shut off ancillaries, such as the air conditioning, to conserve battery power. The 2012 Honda Fit EV can be recharged in 12 hours using Level 1 charging (120-volt household current) and around six hours using Level 2 (240-volt).
Kia Optima Hybrid
has always been big on fuel economy and saving money. Only recently has the Korean automaker added style to its high value sales and marketing strategy. The new sedan is a sleek-looking new player in the ultra competitive entry-level midsize sedan segment. Worth a look simply for its aggressive exterior and business class-like cabin, the upcoming Optima hybrid will offer expected fuel economy of 37 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway.
Set to go on sale early in 2011, the Kia Optima Hybrid shares the same mechanicals as its corporate cousin, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. Both cars are powered by a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine, which is mated to an electric motor and lithium-polymer batteries. In the Sonata (and likely the Optima as well), this powertain allows full-electric operation at speeds up to 62 mph. The Optima Hybrid also places an emphasis on value for the money by offering luxury features such as navigation, heated and cooled seats, and voice-activated infotainment system.
Infiniti M35 Hybrid
Nissan and its luxury division, , seem intent on proving that improved fuel economy and head-turning looks are not mutually exclusive. Beneath the curvaceous bodywork of the rear-wheel-drive is a 3.5-liter V-6 engine and a 68-hp electric motor with 199 lb.-ft. of torque. The powertrain is coupled to Infiniti's 7-speed automatic transmission. Interestingly, there are two clutches: one between the engine and the gearbox, and another between the gearbox and driveline.
The gasoline engine and electric motor can decouple completely, allowing the V-6 to run more efficiently during power-generation mode. Mechanical drag and normal wear and tear is also reduced by not having the engine's crankshaft rotating during electric-only driving. This allows the electric motor to function as both a performance enhancer during acceleration, and a fuel-saving device during normal driving. Infiniti estimates the fuel economy be 25 mpg city, 30 mpg highway. Look for the M35 Hybrid—the world's first hybrid to feature a standard audible pedestrian warning system—to arrive next year. No prices have been announced.
Nissan Ellure Concept
According to Nissan, the is intended to "bring excitement back to the sedan category while meeting consumer demands for practical and environmentally friendly vehicles." The fluid lines of the Ellure are certainly a good sign of things to come from the Japanese automaker. But we're still trying to figure out how automotive excitement involves an ottoman for the front passenger. At least the front seats covered with black recyclable suede fibers represent a clever environmentally themed touch.
The polished grille of this bright-white concept is inspired by a Samurai's formal outer coat. The big news is Nissan's next-generation hybrid system under the hood. A supercharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine is mated to an electric motor with a lithium-ion battery pack. An overall length of 190.5 inches and a width of 72.3 in. makes the Ellure slightly larger overall than the current Altima sedan.
In case you missed that hint, Nissan has stated that the Ellure Concept could have a "big impact" on the design and engineering of both the and sedans.
Jaguar C-X75 Concept
The was one of the stars of this year's . Seen for the first time in the States, Jaguar's mid-engine beauty is still as seductive as when we first laid eyes on it. An electric powertrain and two micro gas turbines are located behind the passenger compartment. The C-X75 has four electric motors—one in each wheel—that deliver the equivalent of 780 bhp and more than 1100 lb.-ft. of torque. Jaguar could have clothed this technology in a car resembling a refrigerator box and we'd still be hugely impressed. Thankfully, they didn't.
According to , the C-X75 can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in only 3.4 seconds. A 68-mile electric driving range is boosted by the twin micro turbines, for a total cruising range of 560 miles. During the Paris show, Jaguar officials told us all this tech wizardry is slated for life in a laboratory, at least for several more years of testing. However, you might see some elements of the C-X75's dramatic styling filter into production models much sooner than that.