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December 05, 2012

Turning Green at the LA Auto Show

Not long ago, shopping for an environmentally friendly car was a no-brainer: You marched in to your local Toyota dealer, ordered a Prius (because that was basically your only choice), and -- if you were lucky -- you wouldn't have to wait too long for delivery (or pay too much of a premium for it). 

Times have changed, and a visit to this year's LA Auto Show illustrates just how much variety there is for auto buyers who want to drive in the green lane. Los Angeles has long showcased carmakers' latest efforts in fuel efficient and sustainable models, and in 2012, there was a lot to choose from: hybrids, plug-ins, extended range electrics, Diesel, LNG, and eco-efficient traditional engines that squeeze more miles out of a gallon of gas: nearly three dozen total, ranging from small no-frills compacts on up to hybrid versions of luxury models from Audi, Lexus and BMW. 

Green Car of the Year: 2013 Ford Fusion

119_4250Since 2006, the Green Car Journal has presented this award to a model exhibited at the LA Show. Past winners include the hybrid version of the Toyota Camry, Chevy Volt, and Honda Civic GX (fueled by natural gas). This year, the award went to the Ford's 2013 line of Fusions, which feature Eco-Boost engines that get up to 37 mpg and a hybrid that gets an incredible 47 mpg. 

Ford was the only automaker with TWO vehicles listed as finalists for this award (The CMAX was also a contender). This is not surprising, as Ford has sprung into a leadership role in the area of fuel efficient vehicles and sustainable materials.

Luxury Hybrids and Plug-Ins

I am nothing if not aspirational - so I do spend an awful lot of time at auto shows ogling fantasy vehicles. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone; otherwise why would there be so many concept cars on display? But the cool thing about the concepts is that many of them actually go into production. 

One of the things that surprised me this year was how many luxury models have been cloned as hybrids:

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Audi A6 Hybrid Audi Q5 Hybrid

One gorgeous standout was the Lexus GH 450h, with a bamboo interior -- a bonus, since bamboo is one of the more sustainable types of wood because it grows so quickly.

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119_4206One of last year's LA Auto Show highlights was BMW's futuristic i8 electric car concept, which was back on display for 2012. But far more interesting (and practical looking) was this plug-in i3 concept coupe, which I could totally envision seeing in the road really soon. 

BMW says this four-seat fully electric vehicle can go from 0-60 in just 8 seconds. It has a transparent roof and side panels, which let you see into the light carbon fiber passenger compartment -- harder than steel, but 50% lighter.

119_4262Fiat joined the electric parade with an adorable plug-in version of its Cinquecento, the 500e, which offers an estimated 100 miles per gallon equivalent on the highway (and more on city roads), gives you a range of about 80 miles (more on city roads) and of course, zero emissions.

The 500e's battery-electric powertrain can be recharged in four hours at Level 2 (240 volts). 

The 2013 Fiat 500e will be arriving in California dealerships in the Spring.


Just a couple of months after its North American launch, Chevrolet unveiled a plug-in version of its cute little Spark urban mini-car. The Spark EV will share a number of technologies with its big electric brother, the Chevy Volt -- but not its price tag. With tax incentives, new Spark EV will cost just under $25,000.

Innovations on the Spark EV will include SAE DC Fast charging, which will allow you to reach an 80% battery charge in just 20 minutes -- that is, if you can find a compatible charging station for what appears to be a new protocol. You will also be able to recharge with the dedicated 240V charging stations currently for sale, as well as 140V house current - just be warned that attaining a full charge will take longer (seven hours at 240V).

A really cool development for the Spark EV is the addition of Siri compatibility on its MyLink infotainment system - so owners of Siri-enabled iPhones will be able to integrate that functionality while they drive.


Mitsubishi's press conference concluded with literal fanfare, from the fabled USC marching band - all in honor of a new partnership between the Japanese automaker and the university's Viterbi School of Engineering, which is building a campus wide Smart Grid Living Laboratory.

Mitsubishi is donating 12 of i-MiEV vehicles and several Level 2 charging systems to the program, which aims to pave the way to building the new infrastructure we need to accommodate a growing population of vehicles that run on alternate energy sources like electricity. Anyone who has had the experience of range anxiety and the difficulty of locating compatible charging facilities (as I experienced earlier this year) should welcome this study.

And as the infrastructure around electric vehicles grows, so should the range of plug-in options offered by the world's automakers. I can't wait to see what's in store at next year's LA show.


Donna Schwartz Mills 



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