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2001 California International Auto Show

At last year's California International Auto Show in Anaheim, I got my first look at the 2000 model-year Honda Insight, the first hybrid-electric vehicle sold in the United States; there was an area called the Millennium Pavilion where this and a large variety of other alternative-fueled vehicles were on display. Given last year's emphasis on this topic, I have to think that this year either I missed something (I spent only a short time at the show on Wednesday 8 November 2000 after work, since that was the only time I could go), or else alternative fuels have become so "mainstream" that they are unremarkable, and don't need any special display! The only alternative-fueled vehicles I saw were those that are currently available (with long waiting lists!) from dealers: the Insight and Toyota Prius hybrids, and the General Motors EV1 battery-electric car.

2001 Honda Insight

The Insight was on display in the Honda area, of course; you can see on the poster behind it that Honda did boast a little about it, along with the S2000 and the natural-gas-powered Civic GX. In the driving report I posted after renting an Insight from EV Rental Cars several months ago, I remarked that this was the only electric vehicle I've ever driven that had a manual transmission; well, for the 2001 model year the Insight is also available with a continuously-variable automatic transmission, which should help stick-shift klutzes like me to get a bit better fuel economy out of the beast!

Nissan Sentra GXE

This is the Nissan Sentra GXE; it is not an alternative-fueled vehicle, so why am I posting a photo of it on this website? Well, in September 2000 the California Air Resources Board (CARB) reaffirmed the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate, which requires 10% of 2003 and later model-year vehicles sold in California by six large-volume and eleven intermediate-volume automakers to have zero tailpipe emissions. In response to automaker protests that they were being frog-marched into a future for which the technology was not yet commercially viable, CARB has significantly watered down the requirement from its initial form as proposed a decade ago. Besides abandoning phase-in requirements that would have begun in the 1998 model year, and granting extra credits for early introduction of ZEVs and for battery-powered electric vehicles with long ranges per recharge, CARB now will allow the large-volume automakers to meet 6%, and the intermediate-volume automakers all 10%, of the requirement by getting credits for making and selling "Partial ZEVs" (PZEVs). These are vehicles with very low (but not zero) tailpipe emissions that also have zero evaporative emissions, offer a 150,000-mile emissions warranty, and meet some other requirements; I show a photo of the 2001 Sentra GXE because the California version of this gasoline-powered car is the first vehicle to be certified as a PZEV. The second, and so far only other, vehicle so certified is, not surprisingly, the Honda Civic GX that I mentioned above, which remains the cleanest internal-combustion-engine car you can buy. There are other internal-combustion vehicles, notably the Insight and Prius, that should be certifiable as PZEVs by 2003; I understand that the biggest hurdle is getting the reliability of the emission-control systems up to the 150,000-mile level! This is why battery-electric vehicles remain the "gold standard" for clean air--they don't get dirtier over time, but instead get cleaner as the generating stations from which they recharge are improved, or even replaced with renewable energy sources. Still, cleaner internal-combustion vehicles, including gasoline-powered ones, are certainly not bad news!

EV1 and Cheryl!

I mentioned at top that I only saw three alternative-powered vehicles at this show; in particular, the flex-fuel Ford Ranger, which could run on any mixture of gasoline and E85 (up to 85% ethanol) at no extra charge if buyers chose the 3.0-liter V6 engine, has been discontinued. (I understand that this will become the standard engine on most variants of the Taurus in a month or so, however, and that a flex-fuel 4.0-liter V6 is available for the Explorer Sport and Sport Trac.) I didn't see the E85 version of the four-cylinder Chevrolet S-10, though it is definitely available (by special order), and the flex-fuel Dodge Caravan is still "49-state" (i.e., not certified for sale in California, or other states that have adopted its emissions requirements). My old friend the EV1 was there in the Saturn display, though (a NiMH advanced-battery example), despite the fact that there is no 2001 model of the car (yet...?); the original (1997) cars that started coming off their leases in the last year or so will be refurbished, fitted with improved lead-acid batteries, and re-leased starting in a few months, and there is already a tremendous waiting list! Personally, though the EV1 remains my favorite car of all time, I am hoping to be able to buy a four-seat "family-car" version, like some of the concept cars that GM has shown, in 2003 or 2004: the lovely lady sitting in the car is Cheryl Kuroda, with whom I hope to be sharing vehicles (and everything else!) starting in about a year...

1957 BMW Isetta

As at last year's edition of this auto show, the Petersen Automotive Museum had several vehicles on display. This is a 1957 BMW Isetta, a "micro-car" with about a 250cc (that's 0.25 liter!) engine; you can see that the trait shared by the Insight and EV1 of having the rear wheels closer together than the front ones is not a modern innovation! This and other micro-cars like the three-wheel Messerschmidt Kabinenroller ("Cabin Scooter") were the hallmarks of post-WWII economies that couldn't afford to waste money on needless fuel consumption. A "Did You Know?" note in the auto show program observed that the three most popular vehicles sold in Japan in 1999 were mini-cars with under 600cc (0.6 liter) engines; though that country today is a lot wealthier than it or Germany were after WWII, nonetheless gasoline prices of $4 per gallon and climbing are making people think about conservation more and more seriously. Even in the United States, with prices at about 40-50% of that level, people are starting to pay attention to fuel economy again after the fat days of the SUV in the nineties. One nice thing about modern alternative-powered vehicles is that, with advanced technology and cleaner, cheaper alternative fuels, it's not necessary to drive a "martyr-mobile" (in the words of EV1 enthusiast Marvin Rush) if you want to benefit your planet and your wallet!

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new 13 November 2000, revised 15 November 2000