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L.A. auto show’s green revolution

Published November 16, 2007


LOS ANGELES–In the hierarchy of environmentally friendly motorized transportation, the fuel cell-powered vehicle, complete with a near-silent driving experience and the promise of zero emissions, is the panacea for the world’s polluting cars, say experts.

Unfortunately, the high cost of production, poor hardwire packaging, and the lack of fuelling infrastructure means hydrogen fuel cell vehicles we’ve seen so far are of the experimental variety.

But those production excuses end next summer. That’s when Honda’s FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel cell sedan will be available to 1,000 California residents for a three-year lease at $600 a month.

Based on Honda’s 2005 FCX concept, the mid-size sedan will return an EPA-certified 68 m.p.g., pass U.S. federal safety standards, start in -30C, have a 432 kilometre driving range between fill-ups, and can top out at 160 km/h, the Japanese automaker says. The FCX Clarity will also feature the first production application of lithium-ion battery technology.

In the long term, Honda also announced plans for its (still experi-mental) home filling station that converts natural gas into hydrogen and creates heat and electricity for your home.

Volkswagen showed up in the Golden State with its Space Up! Blue Plug-in Hybrid, with design elements reminiscent of the 1960s Microbus, though you won’t be able to run down to your local dealer and get one next summer.

The third in a series of recent micro-car concepts, this version debuts VW’s high-temperature fuel cell technology which claims to be lighter, more compact, and cheaper than lower-temperature systems, such as Honda’s.

Contrary to Honda’s progress, VW is pegging 2020 as a potential production date.

In the shorter term, some manufacturers realize that car buyers want greener solutions for large vehicles. General Motors, Chrysler and Porsche are all debuting guilt-free, gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles not usually associated with being environmentally friendly.

GM claims its Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid, on sale next fall, will be the industry’s most fuel-efficient full-size pickup truck with a 40 per cent increase in city fuel economy and an overall 25 per cent increase when compared with a gas-only model. The world’s first hybrid pickup can also tow up to 2,767 kg.

With “Hybrid” boldly emblazoned on its flanks, the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid also makes its debut. It uses the same two-mode hybrid system as the Silverado (and the previously announced Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon Hybrids), consisting of a 300-volt battery pack with two motors matched to the standard 6.0 L V8 and electrically variable transmission. It’s an impressive system – the Tahoe was recognized here for it by being named Green Car of the Year.

Porsche claims its pre-production Cayenne Hybrid can go where no other hybrid SUV can: deep into the off-road and fording rivers up to 50 cm deep.

With a reported 20 per cent fuel consumption reduction, the Cayenne’s V6-based system will also show up in future Volkswagen and Audi products, including Porsche’s forthcoming four-door Panamera sports sedan.

To back up claims of a 2,721 kg towing capacity, Chrysler hitched a water ski boat and a horse trailer, respectively, to its Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango Hybrids that rolled out here and arrive in showrooms mid-2008.

The Aspen and Durango hybrids share the same two-mode system (developed jointly by Mercedes-Benz and BMW) with the GM vehicles, though Chrysler has added its multi-displacement system to its 5.7 L V8 to further increase fuel efficiency by shutting down four of the eight cylinders under light loads. Chrysler claims its hybrids reduce fuel consumption by 25 per cent in the city and 40 per cent overall.

Amidst these arguably oxymoronic “green SUVs,” Toyota, the company that brought the hybrid to the masses, rolled out a full-size SUV with no pretensions of helping the planet.

Toyota‘s eight-passenger Sequoia SUV, heavily based on its full-size Tundra pickup, has a ride and handling that benefit from a new independent rear suspension. The standard engine is a 5.7 L V8 that makes 381 hp mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

For those who don’t need to carry eight passengers or to tow a cigarette boat daily, the L.A. Auto Show does have other new offerings.

Looking like a Korean Mustang, Hyundai is displaying a prototype of its rear-drive Genesis Coupe, on sale in production form in spring 2009.

Based on the impending Genesis mid-size sedan, preliminary specs indicate a 300 hp 3.8 L V6 in the 2+2 coupe. To be sold as “the least expensive 300 hp car on the market,” the sporty Hyundai will have to be cheaper than the current $33,999 Ford Mustang GT V8.

Claiming a “super evolution” of its avant-garde 2004 original, Nissan debuts its second-generation 2009 Murano five-passenger crossover.

The interior has been bumped up to near Infiniti levels of refinement, including push-button start, wood and aluminum trim, optional intelligent key, Bose audio, DVD navigation, 9.3-gig hard drive and iPod connectivity. Nissan’s 265-hp 3.5-L V6, mated to a CVT, is the sole drivetrain.

Despite the rumours, Audi did not show up with a production version of its Q5 luxury compact crossover. Instead, it continues to tease with a two-door, four-seat Cabriolet version of the previously seen Cross Coupe concept, a thinly disguised Q5.

More importantly, the Audi concept’s 240 hp 3.0 L turbo diesel engine (with a reported 7.3 L/100 km fuel consumption) is a bellwether for a production powerplant.

With Cadillac’s new CTS sedan squarely in its sights, Lincoln introduced its MKS mid-size sedan.

Based on the Volvo S80, the Lincoln’s self-proclaimed “new flagship” initially will come with 270 hp 3.7 L V6 and either front- or all-wheel drive. A year later, a higher performance six will be available, which the company says will make the MKS “the most powerful and fuel-efficient all-wheel drive luxury sedan in the market.”

Although Canadian pricing will be set closer to its launch next summer, U.S. pricing is aggressive at $37,985, about $4,000 less than a comparable Cadillac.

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