Cleantech Cars At The 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show

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The Los Angeles Auto Show is always a huge event, and with California being the #1 state in the US for EV sales — with only 13% of the total car sales but 40% of all EV sales — we were looking for big news from the show this year. The show did not disappoint, bringing new-to-North America concepts, “green car” test drives, and the announcement of the winner of the 2016 Green Car of the Year award, among other things.

BMW really went big at the show this year, and not just in the number of cars it had or how decked out they were. Most of the manufacturers I talked to had hired out the staff for the show, filling the floor with interns and a team of good-looking gals that were briefed on the company for a few hours the day before. BMW, on the other hand, flew out the experts, had resources on hand, and went head to head with me on the nuances of its sustainable sourcing strategy, battery technology, and the future of the i sub-brand. It was extremely refreshing to see BMW’s commitment to the show — and more than that, to getting the right story out and defending its position. I’ll have a full write-up specifically for BMW, including details on the Laserlights on its i8, so keep your eyes peeled for that over the next few days.

BMW i8
BMW i8 Laserlights

Nissan, on the contrary, was effectively a no-show at the big show. It had an average display with all its usual cars but I was extremely disappointed to see just one Leaf on the floor with a simple COP21 badge on it, bragging about its role in the upcoming climate talks in Paris. I suppose I just expected more from Nissan as the leader of the charge into production electric vehicles for the masses and due to its large presence at the Santa Monica Alt Car Expo back in September. Adding insult to injury, none of Nissan’s staff knew the first thing about the car, having to refer the lone expert, who seemed to be out eating lunch at all hours of the day.

Green car test drives were set up in front of the convention center as a way to get people into EVs and other cleantech cars at the event. There were only a handful of cars available and it required signing up in advance, but having all the cars there in one spot was helpful. Test driving EVs is extremely important, as getting people into an EV is needed for them to find out how torquey EVs are, how much tech they are packing, how quiet they are,… and all with a knowledgeable person they can ask questions of. This is one of the best ways to get the word out about the benefits of EVs. I took advantage and drove several cars that I had not driven before, including the Fiat 500e, the Kia Soul EV, and the RAV4 Hybrid.

Toyota took a similar approach t0 Nissan with a slew of lightly educated temps with red shirts. It was frustrating and less helpful than a laptop with Google pulled up — even with one hand tied behind your back. They did have several neat concepts on hand with two personal mobility cars that really crack the mold of the typical car. They were neat vehicles but very little information was present about them (“Oh that one? Yeah, it’s small and black. It looks like it could fit one or two people…. Uhh….”). Fortunately, I don’t give up that easily and pulled out some nuggets of interest which I will write more on shortly….

Toyota FV2 Concept
Toyota i-Mobility

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Audi has been making big claims regarding a future electric SUV for many moons now, and finally unveiled the concept in Frankfurt, which is slated for production in 2018. That Blue Beauty was on hand in Los Angeles for its North American debut for the “Press Days,” but mysteriously disappeared when it came time for the public to roll through, leaving just its A3 e-tron to hold down the Audi eco-fort. Either way, it is a beautiful car that holds promise for the high-end, large-SUV crowd.

Of note, the blue beast had solar panels covering the roof, which I had not noticed before. Many cars have what I’ll call fake solar panels on the roof, but they do not actually charge the car or help move it forward. Similar to the panel on the roof of the Fisker Karma, this one appears to be sized to help charge the primary drive battery and not just the 12V battery. However… when Karma actually delivered its vehicles, the solar panel was only set up to charge the 12V battery, and did not actually provide any additional range. Let’s hope Audi has bigger plans than that for this creation.

Solar Roof
Audi e-tron Quattro Concept

Honda was sporting the Clarity Fuel Cell right-hand-drive model, which is currently available in Japan. Honda expects to bring it to the US in 2017, though nobody was willing to share any details on pricing. In US news, Honda killed the Civic Hybrid, though it still has the Accord Hybrid. In terms of bringing an actual cleantech car that will make real improvements in gasoline consumption today, Honda has only slid backwards with the 2016 model-year offerings. Even if it does manage to get the Clarity across the pond in 2017, it will have extremely limited availability to the point where it will only be offered in small markets within Southern California based on proximity to one of the few hydrogen fueling stations. Based on my location, I do not qualify… though I won’t be losing any sleep over that.

Honda Clarify Fuel Cell Vehicle
Honda Clarify Fuel Cell Vehicle

Tesla, shirking the ways of conventional auto manufacturers, opted out of the mega event… though there were some tell-tale traces of its presence in the industry. I will get into the exciting bits in another piece, but suffice it to say that Tesla was the talk of the town without even being in town. I am hopeful that it will come around and show up at a show in the near future, but who’s to say?

Fiat begrudgingly brought the electrified version of the popular Fiat 500, the 500e, to the show — and did so in style, decking it out in full stormtrooper gear with imposing escorts stationed around it. It was an impressive setup and, if nothing else, forced the geeks in the crowd to take notice of the car as something they could be seen in — and not just a “cute” car. They also had these little guys strutting around outside the convention center as part of the Green Car Ride & Drive on day 2 of the show’s press days. Check out my more comprehensive write up here.

Ford cordoned off a corner of its massive display space for a clean carpet corral… marking out the 5 clean air vehicles that it has on offer this year. Specifically, it was showing off the C-Max Hybrid, Fusion Hybrid, Focus Electric, Fusion Energi (Plug-in Hybrid), and C-Max Energi (Plug-in Hybrid). Ford did not have anything new and exciting, nor were representatives willing to share any news about their plans for the Focus Electric or the Energi line.

Fords Clean Car Corral
Fords Clean Car Corral

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Kyle Field

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

Kyle Field has 1657 posts and counting. See all posts by Kyle Field