Green Cars Dominate 2009 LA Auto Show

Dec. 21, 2009

Fuel efficiency was the hottest topic at the 2009 LA Auto Show, with car manufacturers showcasing more than 50 models of hybrid or plug-in hybrid models. Some were just concepts, likely to never be seen in their current form again. But 2010 and 2011 will bring several new fuel-efficient options to the market. Here’s a recap of the LA Auto Show’s hottest hybrids that are sure to make gas guzzlers green with envy, along with some cool concepts that will get any car lover’s engine running.

The Chevy Volt is perhaps the most hyped energy-conscious car right now (Fig. 1). At this year’s LA Auto Show, Chevrolet announced that the Volt will go on sale at the end of 2010 in California, one of the leading states for energy-efficient vehicles. The Volt’s lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pack can fully charge on a standard household 120-V outlet in about eight hours, or in as little as three hours if owners install a 240-V charging station. The vehicle will run on battery power with zero emissions for up to 40 miles and automatically switch to its gas-powered engine after that. Chevy says the average driver commutes fewer than 40 miles per day, so most Volt owners will be able to get around without a drop of gasoline (see "Chevy Volt Put To The Test In GM's Windtunnel").

Audi’s 2010 A3 TDI beat out dozens of other contenders to be named the “Green Car Journal” Green Car of the Year (Fig. 2). The vehicle’s clean diesel engine allows for a highway rating of 42 miles per gallon and provides plenty of pickup with 140 horsepower. The Volkswagen Jetta TDI, which won the Green Car of the Year award last year, had the same engine, which should help erase the negative stigma attached to diesel-run vehicles.

The Prius has become the go-to standard for hybrid vehicles. Now Toyota is upping its own ante by introducing its Plug-In Hybrid (PHV) version to compete with the likes of the Chevy Volt and other plug-in hybrids on the drawing board. Based on the third-generation Prius, the PHV will have a range of 13 miles on battery power and reach speeds up to 62 mph (Fig. 3). It also will use a 5.2-kWh Li-ion battery pack instead of the nickel-metal-hydride unit on the standard Prius. And, Toyota says the PHV will be able to fully charge in 100 minutes from a 200-V outlet or in three hours from a 100-V outlet. The company will release 350 vehicles in Japan and Europe in December and another 150 in the United States in early 2010. To evaluate how consumers use the plug-ins, each vehicle will have a data retrieval device that tells Toyota how often the battery is charged, how much mileage it achieves, and other essential statistics.

The fully electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV is reminiscent of the Smart Car, but this tiny four-seater has a range of up to 75 miles and can reach speeds up to 80 mph. Unlike other plug-ins featured at the LA Auto Show this year, the i-MiEV does not have a gasoline engine to back up its high-density Li-ion battery pack, and using a standard 120-V outlet can take up to 14 hours to fully charge it. There are four cells in each module, and there are 22 modules in the i-MiEV’s battery pack. However, Mittsubishi will offer “Quick Charger Systems” that can charge the battery to 80% in just 30 minutes. Expect to see the i-MiEV on the road in 2011.

BMW AND EfficientDynamics VISION
The Vision concept car by BMW and EfficientDynamics looks more like something out of “Speed Racer” than a muscle car you’d normally see on the highway, but it turned lots of heads at the LA Auto Show this year. This plug-in hybrid boasts the same performance capabilities as a BMW M class model. BMW says the model is “near production ready,” but many predict the version displayed at the auto show this year won’t make the cut.

The Honda P-NUT, or Personal-Neo Urban Transport, is designed to navigate through crowded urban areas (Fig. 4). Its rear engine bay can accommodate a variety of technologies, such as a conventional small displacement gasoline engine, a hybrid gasoline-electric powertrain, or a battery-electric powertrain. It seats only three people, with the driver in the center and passengers in the back, giving the P-NUT a cockpit feel. The windshield features a heads-up display for navigation and rear-view camera. Despite its stunning aesthetics, Honda says it is not considering the concept car for production.







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