A Faint Glimmer of Hope
By Noel Adams
For supporters of the electric vehicle, the 2001 LA Auto Show can, at best, be described as disappointing. The show said more about electric vehicle by what was not displayed than by what was.
As I entered the West Hall, things began to look promising. At the entrance was the Th!nk Mobility display. A Th!nk City and a four passenger Th!nk Neighbor were the first things I saw as I entered the hall. The display was getting quite a bit of attention and a Th!nk representative was on-hand to tell everyone about the Vehicles.
He told me that the Neighbor should be in showrooms some time in March. They will have two passenger and four passenger models starting at around $6,000.
The City should be on sale some time in 2002. The US version will have the cheap looking plastic body panels, that always seem to be scratched and dull, replaced by dent resistant plastic panels similar to those on the current Saturn models. It will also have the AVCON charging port replaced with a standard 110V port so that there will be no need to install a charging station.
Also on display were the two Th!nk electric bikes. These were in a display case behind the Neighbor so most people were overlooking them. I must say they did look better in full size than their pictures on the Th!nk mobility web site.
The Ford display itself had the World premier of the Escape HEV. They had one vehicle sitting on a raised platform but they were letting people walk up to it. They had a Perspex panel in the hood so that you could see inside. There wasn¹t much to see just a metal cover that said HEV on it. The Ford salesman told me that they are expected to go on sale in 2003. I overheard one lady tell him that California needs electric vehicles now but he just shrugged and went on to explain the power train to someone else. The Escape HEV was about the size of a RAV4 and, I was told, drivers should expect to get about 40 miles per gallon.
Conspicuous by its absence was the Ford Ranger EV. They did have a standard Ranger on display but not the EV. Nobody seemed to know much about the Electric Ranger.
The Honda stand had a couple of Insites on display. One of these was open so you could get inside and have a close look. The Salesman was somewhat knowledgeable about them and told me that there should be an automatic transmission version in dealerships by the end of March. However, he could tell me very little about the availability of the Civic HEV, only that they should be available before the end of the year.
Toyota had a couple of Priuses on display and even had a girl touting their advantages. One wag in the audience suggested that the Prius had a zero to sixty of five minutes. He seemed a little surprised when the announcer said that its acceleration matched that of most compact sedans. They did have the Prius open so that you could sit in it and get a general feel for the car, but I couldn¹t find a sales person in the area who could give me more information.
They also had a large display of RAV4s but did not have a RAV4 EV. I had also expected them to have an ECOM on display as they are currently testing some down in Irvine. Unfortunately they didn¹t.
Nissan was a total disappointment. Not only did they not have the Nissan Altra or the Hypermini on display, they did not even have a Sentra CA. The CA is the only car currently certified as a PZEV here in California so I had expected that it would be displayed prominently at the Auto Show but it wasn't
Daimler-Chrysler had the world Debut of the Dodge Powerbox HEV. This vehicle is powered by compressed natural gas engine with an electric motor assist. According to the lady at the Dodge stand they have no plans to produce the Powerbox serial hybrid. She didn¹t know much else about the vehicle and referred me to their website, www.4adodge.com, if I wanted more information.
While there were plenty of minivans in the Daimler-Chrysler exhibit, there was no sign of the EPIC. Also absent from their display was the GEM. Daimler-Chrysler recently bought this NEV manufacturer and, as this would be a major strategy for complying with the ZEV mandate, it seems odd that they did not include one in their display.
Unexpectedly, Saturn had a silver blue EV1 sitting among its range of sedans, station wagons and their new SUV. As usual it was gathering a sizable crowd. Unfortunately they had no EV expert to answer questions, although the regular Saturn salesman seemed to be doing a pretty good job. When I asked him about the Gen I vehicles however he didn¹t have a clue. Ken Stewart, the EV1 product manager, has been telling the Gen I owners that they will begin getting back their vehicles in the first quarter of 2001. Nobody seems to have told the Saturn sales people about this.
Still, it is very good news that GM included the EV1 in the Saturn exhibit. It is a vehicle that the folks at Saturn are justifiably proud of and I wish they would put it back into production and give it the marketing it deserves.
As for the rest of GM, they seemed to have Trucks, Trucks and more Trucks. Even Cadillac had a couple of Trucks on display. When GM announced that they were going to concentrate on building light trucks they apparently were not kidding. I didn¹t even see a Cavalier in the Chevrolet display area. They undoubtedly had one but it was probably hidden behind some monster truck.
In the far corner of the South Hall sat the Oldsmobile display. They had lots of passenger cars but as the mark is about to be phased out, nobody seemed to be interested; a sad end to this venerable name.
Finally I went over to Kenton Hall to see the specialty car dealers. The program promised the Domino Pizza Cruiser and I thought that they might have brought their Sparrow to the Show. Corbin did not have the funds to cover both the LA and Detroit Auto Shows and chose the Detroit show as it gets more worldwide media attention.
When I found the Domino exhibit, the Cruiser turned out to be a Chrysler PT Cruiser with the Domino¹s logo painted on the side. Nowhere near as cool as their Sparrow.
This year¹s LA Auto show points the way to a bleak year for electric vehicles. It does not look like any of the major manufacturers are considering expanding the sale of electric vehicles this year.
There was also a distinct lack of fuel cell vehicles at the show. I didn¹t see a single manufacturer that had a fuel cell vehicle on display. I can only assume that they still have just one or two and they were reserved for the Detroit Auto Show.
On a positive note, the two new serial hybrids shown this year, the Ford Escape and the Dodge Powerbox do show that the US Automobile Manufacturers are looking at this technology to help improve fuel efficiency and reduce pollution.
We do have the return of the Gen I EV1s to look forward to and the debut of the Th!nk Neighbor, but other than that, and a trickle of Ford Rangers and RAV4 EVs to the Fleet crowd, it looks like it will be pretty near impossible to get an electricVehicle from the major Automobile manufacturers in 2001.
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