Noel Adams - Charging Ahead

2019 Los Angeles Auto Show

Dec 12, 2018

Noel Adams files this year's report from the Auto Show noting that "it is amazing to see how far we have come with plug-in vehicles since I started covering the show over a decade ago."

The LA Auto Show kicked off this week at the Los Angeles Convention Center and it is amazing to see how far we have come with plug-in vehicles since I started covering the show over a decade ago. Back then it was the occasional NEV, a few standard hybrids and perhaps a concept car or two.

Both GM and Ford have announced that they are dropping nearly all their car models. GM for example is stopping production of the Volt next March along with several other car models including the Cruze. In general, the US auto manufacturers, while having a presence at the show, didn’t have any new announcements. Only Lincoln, with the Aviator full sized SUV, and Jeep, with their full-sized Truck, held press conferences this year.

Back in 2007 the buzz at the show was about trucks and SUVs with people dropping sedans to move towards bigger and bigger vehicles. Then the economy crashed and people wanted small fuel-efficient cars again and the automobile companies were in trouble. In some ways I was reminded of this as talk has once again gone around to how SUVs are booming and phasing out small cars. This year was a little different though.

The biggest surprise of the show came from Kia which announced not one but two 200+ mile range electric cars.

First, they announced the 2019 Kia Niro EV which should be in dealerships early next year. The car comes with a 64KWh battery pack that will give the car an EPA estimated range of 239 miles. This crossover is expected to start hitting dealerships early in 2019.

Second, they announced the upgraded version of the Kia Soul. This actually didn’t look an awful lot different from the old Soul. The new vehicle will come equipped with the same 64 KWh battery pack that powers the Niro. There is no official EPA number from this car and Kia would only has that the car’s range was double the current Soul EV which would make the range 222 miles. EPA numbers should be in some time in the first quarter of 2019 and it is likely that the Kia Soul will start to appear in dealerships toward the end of the second quarter. One nice thing is that the pack has been repackaged and no longer intrude on the cargo space in the rear.

Kia have also abandoned the ChaDemo fast charging standard so both the Niro and Soul EV will come with the CCS fast charger connection. The bad news is that the cars will only be stocked in dealerships in CARB states so if you live outside these states then the cars will need to be special ordered.

The vehicles causing the most buzz were from Rivian, who launched both an electric SUV and an electric Truck on Tuesday. This was the day before the normal press conferences so I didn’t get to see the reveal. Rivian have been in stealth mode for quite some time now and appear to have a couple of vehicles that will have wide appeal.

Both the truck and the SUV come with several battery pack configurations starting with 180 KWh pack with a quoted range of 410 Miles on a charge. They will also have 135 KWh and 110 KWh options. Both the truck and SUB are supposed to be able to go from 0-60mph in 3 seconds and have a top speed of 125mph. The Truck is targeted at a base price of $69,000 while the SUV will be a little more expensive at $72,500. Production is planned to begin in 2020.

When I stopped by to get some pictures, they were letting people look inside but not get inside. They also were very concerned about me scratching it with my camera bag. That gave me the impression that these were still in the early concept stage. The company does appear to be well funded and do have a product that the US consumer would be interested in. It will be interesting to see if they can get into production on schedule.

Another company who announced on Tuesday ahead of the normal press conferences was Byton. Byton is a startup car company based in Silicon Valley but mostly funded by Chinese car company FAW Group. The M-Byte is a full-sized SUV that will come with a 71 KWh battery that is said to provide a range of 250 miles and will have a base cost of just $45,000. The M-Byte is due to begin production in China next year and is planned to be put on sale in the USA in 2020.

Byton also showed off a concept car, the K-Byte which is their idea of what a fully autonomous vehicle will be. Both the M-Byte and K-Byte were designed with autonomous driving in mind and while the M-Byte is expected to have only partial autonomy the production car developed from the K-Byte is expected to be fully autonomous.

The German companies, with the exception of Mercedes-Benz appear to be moving full speed ahead into electric vehicles.

Audi showed off their e-tron GT concept. The car is driven by a 90 KWh battery that will give the it a range of 248 miles. 0-6 time is a fast 3.5 seconds and the car can hit a top speed of 149 mph. While this car has nothing like the range of the Tesla Model S 100D it is the first car I have seen so far that looks like it could offer a challenge to the Tesla Sedan. There was no indication if this car would actually be put into production although it did look close to being production ready.

While looking around the Audi stand, I did notice on omission, I couldn’t find an A3 e-Tron Sportsback. What I did find was an all-electric SUV, the e-Tron 55 Quatro. The e-Tron 55 Quatro comes with a 95 KWh battery pack. The EPA range is not yet available for this SUV but it is expected to come in at around 250 miles. It will also include the 800-volt charging option that allows it to charge up to 80% in as little as 20 minutes. The car can go 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds and speed tops out at 124 mph.

The car has a base price of $74,800 and can be ordered through the Audi USA web site with deliveries expected to start in the second quarter

BMW staged the world premier of the BMW Vision i-Next concept vehicle. The i-Next was a crossover type vehicle but apart from it being electric there was very little information about the specifications other than that they were in the process of developing the 5th generation electric drive train. They did mention that it would be fully autonomous.

BMW also said that they will have sold 140,000 plug-in cars this year and that by 2025 they plan on having 25 plug-in cars of which 12 will be fully electric.

VW were looking to fill a niche in local deliveries with two electric offerings. The first was the Cargo e-Bike. This was a small trike that was designed for last mile deliveries. It has a 250W motor that is used to assist the rider. It has two wheels at the front with a cargo box in between. The one on the VW stand had a cooler box on it and they used it later to give out ice-cream.

They also had the new I.D. Buzz Cargo. This is a panel van based on the I.D. Buzz platform. This concept is said to have an all-electric range of up to 340 miles depending on the battery option chosen. It also came with a solar roof and a digital cargo system to manage deliveries.

VW gave no indication of when this vehicle might be placed into production or if it would be offered in the USA.

Genovation also revealed their GXE supercar. The GXE is a Corvette Z06 that has been converted to electric power. They plan on building just 75 of these. The cars produce a total of 800hp and can top out at a maximum speed of 220mph and can hit 190.48mph in the standing mile. It uses a manual 6 speed gearbox and double clutch. In normal driving conditions range is said to be around 175 miles on a charge. Of course, performance like this does not come cheap. Genovation is currently taking $250,000 deposits for the car which will ultimately cost $750,000.

There were a few disappointments too.

Toyota held one of the biggest press conferences of the week but what they had to show was not spectacular. They did introduce a hybrid version of the Corolla which uses the same basic drive train as the Prius. The Corolla is one of the best-selling cars of all time and is already pretty fuel efficient. There are currently no EPA numbers for this model but Toyota says it will get at least 50mpg combined.

Talking of Prius, Toyota also announced the next generation Prius. The fuel economy of the car doesn’t appear to have changed much with a combined fuel economy raging of 52mpg, but it does at least look quite a bit better than the current generation. For the first time Toyota are going to introduce an all-wheel drive version of the Prius.

It is pretty clear that Toyota are still firmly in the Fuel Cell Camp but they are very good at building electric drive trains so I was hoping for something more exciting that a repackaging of their current hybrid technology.

I was disappointed to find out that Subaru was not having a press conference as they had announced the Crosstrek plug-in hybrid was going to be at the show. I took a walk around there stand and they did have a couple on display.

Outwardly the PHEV is the same as the standard Crosstrek but under the covers the 2.0-liter engine is mated to what is essentially the hybrid power train from the Prius Prime. The car has the same 8.8 KWh lithium Ion battery as the Prime and this will offer up about 17 miles of all electric range which I found disappointing. Also like the Prius Prime, the battery pack intrudes into the cargo area reducing cargo space.

The CrossTrek PHEV starts at a base price of $35,950 but will be eligible for a $4,500 federal tax credit. There was no indication of when the car would be available in the US but I expect to see it towards the end of the first quarter.

I was also somewhat disappointed with the Mitsubishi press conference. They did have the world premier of their new e-Evolution concept. This is a fully electric car that actually looked a little similar to the BMW Vision i-Next.

Being a concept car there were few details available about the e-Evolution drive train other than to note that it used a 3-motor system to give full four-wheel drive. There is a single motor driving the front wheels with two additional motors to drive the rear wheels.

The concept looked quite interesting but it was just a concept and looked nowhere near being production ready. I was expecting something more from them, perhaps a replacement for the now defunct i-MiEV.

Hyundai also was a big disappointment at first when their only announcement at the press conference was a rather run-of-the-mill full sized EV called the Palisade. As I wondered around their stand, I did come across a couple of other cars that are more my style.

The first was the Hyundai Kona a nice little crossover that is driven by a 64 KWh battery pack that gives the car and EPA rating of 258 miles. It has a 0-60 time of 7.6 seconds and will top out at 104 mph. The car comes equipped with a 7.2KW charger and will also have a 100KW CCS fast charger option.

The Kona EV will be on sale in California starting in the first quarter of 2019. It will then be rolled out to the other CARB states but will need to be special ordered at dealerships outside the CARB states.

Like Toyota, Hyundai is also committed to fuel cell technology and sitting next to the Kona EV was their next generation FCV, the Nexo. The Nexo is supposed to be available here in California some time in December.

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