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2003 California International Auto Show

I apologize for sitting on this report for over six months; right after I reported on the California Coast Road Rally of fuel-cell vehicles last September, I undertook a major restructuring of the website, and since I only work on it occasionally it has taken this long to get everything ready to upload! I went to the California International Auto Show in Anaheim on 19 October 2002, and though I didn't see much new "product," there were a few things worth mentioning from an alternative-fuels viewpoint.

GM Autonomy

Probably the most unusual thing there was this mockup of the General Motors "Autonomy" fuel-cell concept vehicle. This is not a full vehicle, of course; they have designed the entire drivetrain (fuel tanks, fuel cell, electronics, and motors) to fit inside this "skateboard." Then various kinds of bodies could be mounted atop this chassis, "docking" electronically with it like a laptop computer. This "drive by wire" functionality allows for considerable freedom in laying out the body and passenger compartment, since you don't have to have the steering wheel there and the brake pedal there and the shift lever there. This is purely a concept vehicle; however, it does demonstrate the design flexibility that an electric drivetrain and electronic controls give to automakers.

2003 Honda Civic Hybrid and Insight

Honda had a nice display behind their hybrid-electric Civic and Insight, including a cutaway hybrid drivetrain so people could see its different components. Both vehicles now come with either a manual or continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT); the natural-gas-powered Civic GX still only offers the CVT. I understand that Honda will be phasing out the Insight soon, since sales are relatively small for this two-seater compared with the popular Civic sedan hybrid.

RAV4-EV and baseball game

Toyota's Prius hybrid has also gone on to great mainstream success; unfortunately, their brief experiment with actually selling (rather than just leasing) their battery-electric RAV4-EV ended shortly after this auto show, and I understand they have stopped production altogether. There was a big-screen TV showing a World Series game across the aisle from this vehicle, so people were paying more attention to that than to the RAV4-EV; Toyota claims that there was not much more interest in the vehicle in the showroom, despite what they called an advertising push comparable to the successful introduction of the Prius. I'd have to dispute that characterization, not just because I saw a lot more Prius advertising than RAV4-EV advertising, but also because advertising for battery-electric vehicles (EVs) needs to contain a public-education component (pointing out, for example, that a battery EV can handle the vast majority of daily commute-and-errands driving) that no automaker, nor anybody else for that matter, has ever bothered to do.

GEM Volt'ster

The only major automaker still producing EVs is DaimlerChrysler, whose Global Electric Motorcars division produces Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs, small EVs with a top speed of 25 MPH that are legal on streets with speed limits of 35 MPH or less). This photo shows the "Volt'ster," a show version customized by Performance West Group. Just before this auto show, Ford quit producing its TH!NK Neighbor NEV, and canceled plans to begin selling the TH!NK City two-seat commuter EV. A few months later, the TH!NK City was sold to a new owner, and I hold out hope that they will bring it to the U.S. market in a year or two; however, my wife and I needed a new car this year. We decided that we could not afford to get one of the last RAV4-EVs, since this would have caused us to throw away thousands of dollars of GM Card rebate that I had accumulated in hopes of buying an EV1 electric car; GM never actually sold the EV1, just leased it, and they never accepted GM Card rebate bucks on the car anyway, and so we ended up using it to get a Pontiac Vibe. This is a nice enough little family car, with decent fuel economy; but it is a far cry from what I expected to be able to buy in the 2003 model year, the year in which the original version of the California Zero Emission Vehicle mandate would have required that 10% of vehicles sold in California have zero tailpipe emissions!

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