Noel Adams - Charging Ahead

Exclusive: The Electric Cars of the 2015 LA Auto Show

Dec 15, 2015

After Noel Adam's wife suffered a medical emergency while he was covering the LA Auto Show for EV World this year, he can now report on what he found as she is, gratefully, on the mend.

It was a bright sunny day as I made my way to the LA Convention Center through stop and go traffic. The traffic on the 10 was pretty typical with speeds around 20mph but getting to the freeway was a different matter as the streets approaching the freeway were gridlocked.

By the time that I arrived I had already missed the first press conference and but I wasn’t too worried as it was unlikely that Alpha Romeo were going to announce a plug-in car. I was right, what they showed was the 2017 Giulia which is a 4 door sedan. The car will initially launch late in the second quarter of 2016 and will feature a 2.9 liter V6 that will give the car a 0-60 mph time of 3.8 seconds with a 2 liter version to follow next summer.

I had time to grab a quick breakfast and take a look at the press conference schedule before the next press conference began. The companies not having press conferences this year was quite surprising. Nothing from Toyota, Honda, Chevrolet, or BMW. Honda and BMW in particular had major announcements but chose not do this with a press conference.

I rushed over to the Ford stand which was already packed with people. They were having a combined press conference and I was hoping that they would show a concept of what would be the follow-up to the Focus EV but they just showed a video that did a reveal of the new Escape with no real details about the car, then moved focus over to the Lincoln stand where they announced the 2017 Lincoln MKZ.

The emphasis on this car was not on the horse power or fuel economy but on the new safety features. This would become a recurring theme in upcoming press conferences. The MKZ features adaptive cruise control, pre-collision assist which automatically applies the brakes to prevent or reduce damage in a collision. Another interesting feature is auto hold. At long stops the driver can push a button and the car will automatically keep the brakes applied until the driver presses the accelerator pedal. This is supposed to reduce driver fatigue. The MKZ will come with a 3.6 liter bi-turbo that produces 400 hp. They also mentioned that the current MKZ hybrid is their best seller in California but didn’t say when, or if, there would be a hybrid version for 2017.

I hurried over to the Nissan stand which once again was very crowded but I did manage to find a place to stand where I could get a good view of the stage. I was hoping for a bit more details on the next generation Leaf which appears to be slowly leaking to the media but they didn’t mention anything. What they did do is introduce the 2016 Sentra. This is basically a mid-cycle update with changes to the body style and the addition of a whole new range of safety features while leaving the power train the same. The 2016 Sentra will have intelligent cruise control, forward emergency braking, blind spot warning, and rear cross traffic warning as options. The base price will be $16,780.

I wasn’t expecting any plug-in announcements at Fiat either but their press conferences are always fun so I made my way there and managed to snag a seat. They started out showing their commercial for the 500x where the guy loses his last Viagra which ends up in the gas tank of a fiat 500 that then beefs up to the 500x crossover. Then they announced that they would be making an all-wheel drive version of this car. Then came their big reveal, the Fiat 124 Spider. This is a roadster that has a look designed to be reminiscent of the iconic roadster that debut 50 years ago. Under the hood is the same 1.4 liter turbo charged engine that powers the 500 Abarth and offers 160hp. They also had a new ad for the car. The guy now finds his Viagra bottle empty so he hops in his Fiat 124 Spider and takes it for a spin through the countryside producing the same effect as the tiny blue pill.

Fiat also had a 500e on display that was done up to look like a Storm Trooper from Star Wars.

My next stop was Petree Hall for the Porsche press conference but on my way out of the door I noticed that Honda had a large display for the Clarity Fuel Cell vehicle. The Clarity was first shown at the Tokyo auto show and this was the first time it has been shown in the US. The car is a five door that runs on hydrogen as a fuel. It will seat 5, one more than the Toyota Mirai and it is projected to have a 300 mile range on a fill of hydrogen. Honda say the car will go on sale in the US towards the end of 2016 and is expected to sell for around $62,000

When I got to the Porsche stand, which takes up one small hall, it was so crowded that I could barely get through the door. I wasn't expecting much in the way of plug in vehicles from Porsche so I decided to head for the South Hall to check out BMW.

Porsche showed a couple of new models, the Cayman GT4 Club Sport which appears to be a race ready version of the Cayman GT4. They also showed an updated version of the 911 Targa 4S with a twin turbo flat 6 that can kick out 420hp. What I had hoped for was a replacement for the sold out 918 PHEV but none was forthcoming; perhaps at the Detroit show in January.

BMW was another company that elected not to have a press conference this year but they did have a pretty impressive display of plug-in vehicles. Their display was anchored by the i3 and the i8 both of which have been selling better than expected. I also got my first look at the X5 xDrive40e SUV which went on sale in October.

There was also the US premier of the 330e eDrive, a plug-in hybrid version of their 3 Class sedan. This car has a 7.6 KWH battery pack that will drive the car for an estimated 25 miles. Since this is based on the European drive cycle the EPA estimate will probably be less. The car will run in EV mode at speeds up to 75mph and tops out at 140mph with help from its 2 liter turbo charged 4 cylinder gas engine. The car can be charged on a level 2 charger in about 2 house and forty minutes.

According to the BMW rep I spoke with, the 330e should go on sale in late spring with a base price of $44,695.

My next stop was the Mercedes Benz press conference. Once again there were no plug-in cars being shown and performance was the name of the game. First off was the GLS which they described as the S Class of SUVs. It will come with 7 passenger capacity, all-wheel drive, and 4 different engine options including diesel. I was very surprised that they showed a diesel given VWs current issues.

Next they showed a couple of new entries from AMG, the C63 Coupe and the 577hp S63 Cabriolet. Finally they revealed the 2017 SL Roadster a nice looking car if not exactly fuel efficient.

Wondering when someone would reveal a plug-in I moved on to the Hyundai press conference. They started out saying that they were going to introduce the Genesis brand and said six new models would be introduced beginning in 2016 and this will target the luxury segment. They said they would have more details at the Detroit Auto Show.

They went on to reveal the new Elantra, which is their best-selling model worldwide. It comes with a 2 liter that offers a combined fuel economy of 33mpg, or a 1.4 liter turbo charged engine and 7-speed transmission that offers 40mpg highway and 35mpg city. It will also come with a variety of safety features including smart cruise control, lane keep assist, and automatic vehicle braking.

The next press conference was Mazda but since their philosophy is to build more efficient internal combustion engines I wasn't expecting any plug-in announcements so I had made arrangements to talk with Steve Majoros from GM. Mazda ended up showing the CX-9 full sized SUV.

While I waited for Steve at the Chevrolet exhibit I took a look around to get my first look at the Chevy Bolt prototype but to my disappointment it wasn't there. My first question to Steve was why. He told me that there was lots of demand to display the Bolt and they just didn't have time to get it ready for the LA show. He went on to say that this year they were showing cars that could be bought now including the 2016 Chevy Volt and the new Malibu Hybrid.

He went on to say that GM had listened very carefully to current Volt drivers and had incorporated many of their suggestions into the 2016 model. The biggest request was for more EV range so range was increased from 38 miles per charge to 53 miles as rated by the EPA. They also wanted a fifth seat and that too has been accommodated. Owners also asked for more control of regen so a paddle, similar to the one in the Cadillac ELR has been added to apply regen without touching the brakes. Another big change was the gas engine which increased to 1.4 liters and now runs on regular instead of super.

Steve also told me that LA was the biggest market for the Volt and so far over 900 2016 models have been sold in the LA area with the biggest problem being getting enough cars to dealers.

The 2016 Malibu hybrid uses the same Voltec system as the Volt but the Volt’s 1.5 liter engine has been replaced by a 1.8 liter four-cylinder engine. It comes equipped with a 1.5 KWh lithium ion battery pack which, of course cannot be charged externally. Still, the Malibu hybrid does provides a combined fuel economy of 47mpg.

I asked Steve about the future of the Spark EV but didn't get a hard answer. It looks like GM will keep shipping a limited number of Spark EVs from Korea until the Bolt goes into production but its future is uncertain after that.

Next up came Subaru which showed the Impreza sedan concept. This 2-door sedan didn't look like anything special to me and Subaru did not give any details about the power train so I made my way over to the VW stand.

The VW stand was pretty busy but I managed to find a spot on the very left of the stage in front of what turned out to be the Golf GTE Sport concept. First, as might be expected, VW talked about their diesel issues. They are currently offering a deal that includes a $500 gift card and vehicle discounts. So far about 25% of owners have signed up for this offer.

Next they talked about the car just in front of me, the Golf GTE Sport Concept. This car is a plug-in hybrid which is projected to offer 31 miles of all electric range. I think this is based on the European drive cycle so the EPA range would be considerably less. Still, the car was good looking and was said to be able to do 0-60 in just 4 seconds. This car is currently in the concept stage and VW did not say if they had plans to put this car into production.

The next car up was the new Passat which actually looked a lot like the old Passat on the outside. The car does have some refinements on the interior and will come with optional safety equipment like forward collision warning with automatic braking, lane keep assist, rear cross traffic monitoring, and parking assist.

They also had two variations of the Beetle, both of which will be available as 2016 models. The Beetle Denim is a limited edition convertible. Only 2,000 will be made, 1,000 in white and 1,000 in light blue. The Beetle Dune will be available as a coupe or convertible. While I expected this to be a dune buggy it is actually meant to be reminiscent of the old Baja Beetle. It has a number of features that are different from the standard Beetle most notably an increase of four inches in ride height. I'm sure these cars will excite beetle fans but it is uncertain if they will bring new customers into dealerships.

As the VW press conference was winding down I got a phone call from my wife saying she wasn’t feeling well so I had to leave and missed the Audi press conference.

The Audi press conference didn’t have any flashy reveals just Scott Keogh, President of Audi America presenting on stage in front of two cars, the Audi A3 e-Tron and the Audi e-Tron Quatro. What he said was surprising.

The A3 e-Tron will be available this year. It was originally expected to go on sale in November but it looks like it won’t be in dealerships until late in December. Mr. Keogh said that the car will have an all-electric range of up to 17 miles. The car will come with all the standard luxury and safety features people expect in an Audi at a base price of $37,900 before incentives. One interesting feature is that the car will come with a charger that supports both 110V and 220V rather than the 110 volt charger that comes standard with most plug-in cars right now.

Audi expect to launch some additional plug-in hybrids over the next few years finally leading up to the e-Tron Quatro, a fully electric car with a 300 miles range from a 95KWh battery pack and a 0-62 time of 4.6 seconds. The battery pack is engineered for the life of the car, defined as 15 years or 186,000 miles. Audi is also making plans to roll out a nationwide network of 150KW fast chargers that would allow the e-Tron Quatro to gain about 200 miles of range with a 30 minute charge. The e-Tron Quatro is expected to go on sale in 2018.

Mr. Keogh went on to say that Audi expects the e-Tron models to make up 25% of sales by 2025. He concluded by saying “The electric driving revolution isn’t impossible, it isn’t just likely, it is absolutely inevitable”.

I couldn’t make it back to the Convention Center on Thursday but there wasn’t a whole lot going on so the main thing I missed out on was the ride and drives. I was particularly wanting to test drive the 2016 Volt but I guess I will have to wait on that.

Talking of the Volt, it won the Green Car of the Year award this year. I have been a critic of Green Car Journal’s choice for Green Car of the Year for many years now as they have tended to select diesel over plug-in cars but given the VW issue this year there were no diesels in their finalists for 2015. The finalists were the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic, Hyundai Sonata, and Audi A3 e-Tron. Personally I think the Volt was the correct choice as this car has the potential to be the first plug-in car to sell in really high volumes.

The other big reveal on Thursday, from the fuel economy point of view, was the Elio P5 prototype. Elio is developing a 3-wheel gas powered car that is targeted to get 84mpg at a base price of $6,800. The prototype looks quite good and has a three cylinder engine designed specifically for the car. They are currently in the process of raising money to get the car into production towards the end of 2016. They plan to do direct sales rather than building a dealer network and have partnered with PEP Boys to provider service for their vehicles.

People are now more accepting of three wheel cars and Elio does appear to have all its ducks lined up so they may stand a pretty decent chance of getting the car into production. I am a little skeptical that they can be profitable with the $6,800 price tag.

This year’s LA auto show was pretty disappointing overall. It looks like companies are moving away from using Los Angeles to announce plug-in cars even though this area is the biggest market for these cars. Rumor has it, for example, that the production version of the Chevy Bolt will be announced early next year at CES. Still, it is encouraging to see more and more choices in plug-in cars out on display at the show, and on sale in dealerships.

Show Photos

Fiat

BWM 330e eDrive

VW Golf GTE

2016 Chevy Malibu Hybrid

2016 Chevy Volt Gen II

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