2002 LA Auto Show -- Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Review
By Noel Adams
For supporters of the electric vehicle, the 2002 LA Auto Show was a huge improvement on 2001. There were plenty of vehicles on display, but there was a general lack of information, confirming the belief held by may that the automobile manufactures don't really want to make the effort needed to sell them.
I started my visit at the West Hall where Ford, Honda and Nissan were situated. Just by the entrance was the Th!nk Mobility display. Sitting out front was a bright red 2003 Th!nk City. The new model is a little longer and a little less tall than its predecessor but has the same general appearance. The car was locked and the tinted glass made it difficult to see inside. Also on display was the recently launched Th!nk Neighbor NEV.
I looked around for a representative from Th!nk but there was nobody in sight. There were some brochures lying around so I grabbed one before moving on.
The rest of the Ford exhibit was quite disappointing. I didn't expect to see the Ranger EV on display but I did expect to see the Escape HEV. They did have the gasoline version sandwiched between an Explorer and an Excursion, but not the HEV.
Next to the Ford Exhibit was the Honda display. Honda had gone all out to show their current crop of "green " vehicles. Along with the Insight HEV they also had the new Civic Hybrid. Unfortunately they had it sitting on a roped-off podium so the only indication that it was an HEV was the lettering on the back. One of my objectives in visiting the Auto Show was to learn more about new Civic. Unfortunately the people at the Honda display couldn't tell me anything about it. They didn't even have a brochure they could give me.
I was very surprised to see a CNG version of the Civic sitting in front of HEV version. The natural gas powered Honda Civic is certified by the California Air resource Board (CARB) as a partial zero emission (PZEV) vehicle so it was nice to see Honda actually making an attempt, however feeble, to market it.
Looking up from the CNG civic I saw what I thought was a Honda EV+ sitting on a turntable. It turned out to be one of Honda's fuel cell vehicles. Honda has been developing fuel cell powered cars using the EV+ platform as a way to reduce development costs.
I moved passed the Dodge display, which mostly featured gas-guzzling SUVs, to the Mercedes exhibit. I was wandering if they might have a Smart on display but of course they didn't. They did feature the $100,000 S55 sedan, and the new 500 SL was definitely being drooled on by many of the shows visitors.
The Nissan stand was also full of disappointments. The new 350Z looks like a Porsches and was attracting quite a crowed. What Nissan did not have on display was the Altra or the Hypermini. Even more disappointing was the omission of the Sentra CA. Although the Sentra CA is a gasoline powered vehicle, it has been certified as PZEV by the CARB. With the ZEV mandate coming into effect next year it is surprising that they were not trying harder to sell them.
On my way out of the West Hall I stopped by the Th!nk display once more and found Tom, a representative from Th!nk, busy directing a prospective lessee to Ken Grody Ford in Buena Park who still have a few of the European model in stock.
Tom told me that the 2003 city has been improved with several safety features including side impact protection, more intelligent air bags and improved seat belts that will reduce injuries in a collision. The body will be made from dent resistant plastic that is totally recyclable.
I asked about advanced battery options and he told me that the 2003 model would continue to have NiCad batteries. In the past I had been told that the NiCads were going to be replaced with Lead Acid but I think the NiCads are better as they have a ten-year life and a better energy density than sealed lead acid batteries. The only downside is that the NiCads require service every 3,000 miles.
Tom also told me that there are going to be about forty dealerships in California that will be selling the Th!nk City starting in the Fall. For further details he told me to check 1-877-GO-THINK.
Moving on to the South Hall I began by checking out the Jeep-Chrysler stand where I got my next pleasant surprise. Sitting among a hoard of PT Cruisers I found the GEM exhibit.
Chrysler had not one, not two, but four GEMS on display. There were two-seat and four-seat versions along with long-bed and short-bed truck configurations. There was even someone from Global Electric Motor Vehicles, the Daimler Chrysler subsidiary that makes the GEM, to explain the vehicles. He told me that the GEM is now being sold through Chrysler dealerships in California and other sun-belt states.
When I got to the GM and Saturn exhibits I have to say that may expectations were low and GM did nothing to improve them. Although GM did have a number of sedans on display they didn't have anything that looked mildly environmentally friendly. At least there didn't seem to be much interest in the new Hummer. I did notice that the specifications carefully omitted any mention of fuel economy.
The final insult came at the Saturn dealership where last years EV1 display had been replaced by an SUV on a turntable. This was the vehicle that the Saturn representatives were pushing.
Toyota had both the Prius HEV and the RAV4 EV on display. Both vehicles were open so that people could climb in and have a close-up look.
Once again I couldn't find anyone to talk about the vehicles but there was a bunch of brochures on the dash of the RAV4 EV. The front of the brochure reads, "Holds everything but gas", which makes a good advertising slogan. The RAV4 EV is due to go on sale in California in February.
Finally I made my way down to Kentia Hall where the after market vendors display their wares. Hidden away in the back of the hall was an exhibit of alternative fueled vehicles. I would probably have missed it if Tom, from Th!nk hadn't told me to watch out for it.
The display, sponsored by the Electric Vehicle Association of America (EVAA) included a European model Th!nk City, a Th!nk Neighbor, a GEM, a Columbia ParCar NEV, a Nissan Hypermini, a RAV4 EV, an electric Postal Truck based on the Ford Ranger EV platform, a Ford Escape HEV, a Toyota Prius, a Honda Insite, the Ford 2000 Fuel Cell vehicle and the Insight Davis Chevy Suburban HEV.
The TH!nk city had a sign on it saying "Available today, see representative", but the representative was nowhere to be found. All the vehicles, were locked and there was nobody about who could give me any information about them.
There was also a TV showing a video from Voltage Vehicles. It showed a number of vehicles including an electric VW Bug and the Lectra electric motorbike, which I thought was no longer being produced.
Voltage Vehicles has just signed an agreement with Solectria to build and market electric cars. Unfortunately there was nobody from Voltage Vehicles that I could talk to about their plans for the future, or the vehicles they currently have on sale.
RAD2Go had a large number of vehicles on their stand, including some
electric scooters and bikes. They also had the MORAD 1000 and MORAD 2000
full sized electric scooters on display. The RAD2Go people did not have
any brochures on these two vehicles and didn't seem to know much about them
They did tell me that the MORAD 1000 has a maximum speed of around 30 mph and the MORAD 2000 as a top speed of around 50 mph. They claim a range of 47 miles for both these scooters. The RAD2Go reps seemed a lot more knowledgeable about the small gasoline powered scooter that they had on special offer.
With one full sized EV, one City EV, 3 NEVs, 2 full sized electric scooters, 4 HEVs and 1 CNG vehicle on display, and all of them, with the exception of the Ford Escape HEV, being available now, or going on sale later this year, the 2002 LA Auto Show was certainly an improvement over last years disappointing display.
It would have been nice if there had been representatives available who could have given me more details about the cars. It does seem that the ZEV mandate is starting to take effect and the long drought for those who want to purchase EVs in California may finally be coming to an end. Now we have to get the vehicles into showrooms across the nation so that the automobile manufacturers can finally reach the kind of volumes they need to build EVs cost effectively.
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