Exclusive Report: 2010 LA Auto Show
By Noel Adams
It was cool and cloudy as I made my way through heavy traffic on I10 to the LA Convention Center for the opening day of the 2010 LA Auto Show. I Parked in the south parking lot then went to grab a quick breakfast before going to the keynote address being hosted by the Motor Press Guild.
The keynote speaker this year was Stefan Jacoby, President and CEO of Volvo Motors. Mr. Jacoby is a German who is in charge of a Swedish car company owned by the Chinese. In his opening remarks he emphasized that Volvo was now an independent car company whose major shareholder is the Chinese company Geely. He said that you can expect Volvo to be “leaner, better, smarter, and especially Faster”. He went on to add “It is not actually that the big ones are eating the small ones, it’s that the fast ones are eating the slow ones.”
He talked a little bit about their electric car program and said that electric cars from Volvo had to be as safe as any other Volvo car. He announced that the C30 electric, which they introduced at the Paris Auto show, would be participating in a demonstration program here in California starting in late November. He also said that they would be marketing a plug-in hybrid in 2012. In Europe this car would use a diesel engine but they would use a gasoline engine when the car eventually came to North America.
Over the past two years the automobile industry has been hard hit by the recession, and the tone at the LA auto show had been one of trying to survive. This year Mr. Jacoby was very optimistic about the future of Volvo. He expects Volvo to continue to grow its markets in Europe, China and the US, and projected that they would sell 800,000 vehicles per year by 2020.
This optimism about the future of the automobile industry was echoed by just about every other car maker at the show.
The first press conference was from Chevrolet and I had to rush over to the south hall to make the start of the presentation. The first thing that I noticed when I got to the Chevy exhibit was a Volt sitting out on the floor among the other sedans, a good indication that this was now considered a production car. On the stage sat another Volt but this one wasn’t clean and shiny, like you expect to see at an auto show, but covered in dust and grime. Joel Ewanick, VP of US Marketing explained that he and three other GM employees had driven this car from Detroit to LA to get to the show.
He said that this was his personal car and that he had driven the car 1100 miles before he started the road trip to Detroit but hadn’t put any gas in the car until this trip. He then showed a preview of two commercials for the Volt that will be airing soon. These two commercials are aimed at educating the public about the Volt not have range limitations. The tag line for both is “more car than electric”.
The commercials don’t have the artsy look that brought honors to the original EV1 commercial launched back in 1996 but they do get the idea of the Volt over much better than the EV1 commercials ever did for that car.
Mr. Ewanick invited a group of around ten people up on stage with him. These were LA residents that have already plunked down a deposit at their local Chevy dealership and will be taking delivery of a Volt quite soon. He was a bit fuzzy on when deliveries would actually start. At first he said that the car was already on sale but then said that deliveries would begin immediately after Thanksgiving. I assume that by “on sale” he meant that you could go to a Chevy dealer and place an order for a car, but cars will not actually start being delivered to customers until the very end of November.
Chevy then went on to introduce the new Camaro convertible. Convertibles seem to be making a comeback these days and the new Camero, EPA rated at 29mpg highway, should prove to be a popular car.
I had to miss the VW presentation so I didn’t see Supermodel Heidi Klum present another convertible, the 2011 Volkswagen Eos hard top convertible. Unfortunately VW had nothing else to show even though they are working on both electric cars and diesel electric hybrids.
I got to the Land Rover/Jaguar stand early for their presentation. They unveiled, for the fist time in the US, their C-X75 concept car. This is a full blown supercar that can get over 200mph from its 780bhp power train, and can go from 0 – 60mph in just 3.4 seconds. The car also happens to be a plug-in hybrid with a lithium battery pack that can drive the car for up to 68 miles before needing a recharge. Power is supplied through four electric motors one for each wheel. If 68 miles isn’t enough for your trip then two micro-turbines kick once the pack is depleted to provide enough power to keep the car running until the gas tank is empty, a range of up to 560 miles.
Unfortunately the Jaguar C-X75 is a pure concept car and no plans to make a production version have been announced.
The next presentation was just next door at the Mercedes-Benz stand. They showed off the F-Cell fuel cell vehicle based on their B Class Mercedes. The big news here is that they will be allowing a small number of customers in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas to lease one of these vehicles. They won’t come cheap, the lease price is set at $849 per month but this includes insurance. The bad news, apart from the sky high price, is that there will only be about 70 if these vehicles available between now and 2012.
I opted to skip the Porsche press conference and rushed over to the West Hall to get a front seat for Nissan. Unlike Chevy who made a big deal of the impending launch of the Volt, Nissan didn’t have a Leaf on stage this year, but like Chevy they did have one taking a prominent place in their floor display.
Carlos Tavares, Executive Vice President of Nissan North America did mention the Leaf at the start of his presentation. He said that they had received 20,000 reservations for the Leaf and that first deliveries to customers would begin in early December.
He went on to announce two new vehicles, the Nissan Quest Minivan and the Nissan Murano Cabriolet, yet another convertible. The Murano cabriolet is targeted at married couples in their forties and will be priced starting at $46,390.
Finally, Nissan announced the Ellure hybrid concept. Nissan said that the car is targeted at women in their twenties and thirties but the car, which comes with suicide doors, is unlikely to be made in its current form. Details of the hybrid power train were not revealed.
The next presentation was from Fiat. Fiat, who now owns Chrysler, is returning to the US for the first time in many years. Laura Soave, CEO of Fiat North America, drove onto the stage in one of the original Fiat 500s. She talked about how the new 500 that is marketed in over 80 countries worldwide and has sold more than 500,000 units. Fiat unveiled the three models of the 500 that will be sold in the US starting next year. The cars will all feature a 1.4 liter engine developed around Fiat’s multi-air technology that produces 100bhp and 98ft lbs of torque. MPG numbers haven’t been released yet but it is expected to get around 40mph on the highway.
The cars will be built at the Chrysler plant in Mexico but the engines will be built in Detroit. They will come with a 4 year, 50,000 mile warranty and 3 years of free maintenance. They will be sold through a chain of Fiat dealers and the price for the 2012 model will start at about $15,500.
I decided to skip the Subaru announcement to grab a bite of Lunch after which I returned to the West Hall to see what Ford had to offer. They had at least half a dozen vehicles under wraps so it looked like they were going to announce a ton of vehicles. It turned out that they were all variants of just one car, the new Ford Focus.
Mark Field, President of Ford America, came out and said that Ford now had 13 vehicles that lead their segment in fuel economy. They are the only full line vehicle manufacturer that has 4 models that get 40mpg or better on the highway. He also talked about the importance of the compact car segment saying that “compacts make up one out of every four cars sold worldwide and twenty percent of new cars sold in America”.
After unveiling the cars Mr. Field brought out Skier John Mosley who introduced a really funny video that did a tongue in cheek comparison between a driver in a Ford Focus and a driver in a Bentley. Segments included putting a gallon of gas in the car and trying to drive 40 miles, and parking the car in a tiny space outside a restaurant which illustrated how easy it was to park the Focus using its parking assist feature.
Mr. Field went on to announce that the electric version of the Ford Focus will go on sale in late 2011 and will initially be sold in 19 cities including Los Angeles and a few cities that might not be getting the Nissan Leaf right away, such as Atlanta, Chicago, Phoenix, Tucson, and Orlando.
Ford didn’t have a Focus EV on stage and I couldn’t find one among their array of cars on the convention center floor, but I did find one of their electric Transit Connect vans. I talked to the man from Ford who was answering questions about the van. He told me that Ford were already accepting fleet orders for the Transit Connect and the first deliveries would take place some time early in 2011. He also told me that there would be a Multi-space version available. The Multi-space is a version of the Van with a rear seat. I am not sure if they will actually sell this van to individuals but if you are in the market for an electric van then it might be worth talking to the fleet manager at your local Ford dealership.
From Ford I hurried over to the Honda Stand to see what they had to offer. The Honda presentation was opened by John Mendel, Executive Vice President of American Honda. Like most of the presenters at the show he was very upbeat telling us that Honda had sold over one million cars this year.
Sitting on the stage was a Honda EV+. When Honda started their fuel cell program they had taken some Honda EV+ cars and modified them into fuel cell vehicles. I was wondering if they were going to announce a new EV based on their old EV platform. Mr. Mendel used the EV+ to introduce us to their EV program. Contrary to what we have seen with most manufacturers he didn’t start telling us how few they had sold, but rather how much experience Honda had gained in vehicle electrification by doing the EV+. He said that this experience had helped them with their fuel cell program and with the conventional hybrids now in their line-up. He then went on to introduce Takanobu Ito, President and CEO of Honda Motors.
Mr Ito came on stage and said something that almost knocked me out of my chair, “Ultimately we must advance from using less petroleum to using no petroleum.” He went on to say that Honda wanted to create a total energy management system that included electric cars and solar panels that could be used in neighborhoods or individual homes. He said that in the near future Honda would introduce a new Civic Hybrid powered by lithium batteries and that by 2012 they would have a plug-in hybrid in their lineup. The plug-in hybrid will have an all electric range of 12-15 miles so it will be more like the Prius PHEV than the Volt. Watch for these two vehicles at the Detroit Auto Show in January. Then Mr. Ito blew it by adding “We still believe that fuel cell vehicles are the vehicles of the future”.
Honda finally took the wraps of the new Honda Fit EV concept. This car will be powered by lithium batteries and will offer a range of 70 miles per charge based on the EPA test cycle. The vehicle will offer three driving modes, sport mode, normal mode and eco mode. Eco mode is expected to increase range by about 17%. The car will also be set up to allow remote monitoring of charging.
A small number of Honda Fit EVs will be allocated to demonstration projects starting later this year, but the production vehicle will not be available to the public until 2012.
Next I rushed down to the concourse hall to catch the Lotus press conference. The big bombshell from Lotus is that ex GM executive Bob Lutz has been appointed to the Lotus advisory board. Lotus has revamped their entire line of vehicles and announced new designs for every car line they produce. The new versions, they claim, all follow the lotus tradition of light weight cars with superb handling. The final car that they announced was the Eterne, a four door car that looks a lot like the four-door Porsche. There was very little information given on the Eterne except to say that it would have a hybrid drive train which, one assumes, will be a conventional hybrid.
I hurried over to the Toyota stand in the South Hall and managed to get a place up front standing near the stage. Jim Lentz, President of Toyota’s US Sales unit also began by talking about their sales experience with the RAV4 EV but unlike Mr. Mendel over at Honda, he began with the same old drivel about how few units they had sold, conveniently forgetting that the car was only leased to fleets in California from 1997 until 2001 and didn’t go on sale to the public until 2002 when there were only about 750 of the older RAV4 body style units left and only 350 of these allocated to sales to the public. These sold at almost twice the rate that Toyota had expected. He also said that Toyota had a “long term commitment to fuel cell vehicles” and went on to tell us that they considered electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids as a stop gap measure until fuel cell vehicles were ready.
Then he introduced the RAV4 EV. This car, which is a straight conversion of the current RAV4, was termed phase 0. There will only be 35 phase 0 cars built and these will be used in demonstration projects here in California starting by the end of this year and running through most of next year. The phase 0 SUV has a 100 mile driving range and is designed to drive pretty much the same as the ICE version of the RAV4.
There will also be a phase 1 car to be offered for sale to the general public starting in 2012. This car will be designed as an electric vehicle but no further details were given except to say that like the Phase 0 vehicle, the power train will be engineered by Tesla Motors.
Somehow I always seen to leave the Toyota presentation a little disappointed and this year was no exception. There was no mention of the Plug-in Prius even though it is supposed to be going on sale next year. I didn’t even see one in the cars among those that Toyota had on the floor of the convention hall, although I have to confess that I didn’t look very hard. There was also no mention of the new members of the Prius family that are expected out soon, for those we will have to wait for the Detroit Auto Show in January.
By the end of the Toyota presentation these old bones of mine were really weary so I decided to skip the remaining presentations for the day and make my way home before traffic got too bad. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of electric cars anyway so I didn’t think I would miss much. What I did miss was the Kia presentation unveiled a hybrid version of the Kia Optima four door sedan. This conventional hybrid offers fuel economy of 38mpg city and 40mph highway. The Kia Optima Sedan should be in showrooms early in 2011. I also missed the North American debut of the Kia POP, the funny little three-seat EV first introduced at the Paris Auto Show. The POP, with its see-through body, is a total concept car and is unlikely ever to make it into production. It has a 67hp electric motor driven by lithium batteries that offer a range of about 100 miles.
I had to fight through stop and go traffic on I10 as I travelled back into West LA but it didn’t bother me, I was already anticipating the second media day were there would be more cars announced and perhaps a chance to test drive one or two of them.
PHOTO GALLERYTo view Noel Adams' photos for the Auto Show, click the 35mm Slide icon below.
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