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2003 Greater Los Angeles Auto Show

As with my Anaheim Auto Show report, I'm posting this months after the fact because of the website revision; as at that show, there was not a lot of new "product," but I did spot some interesting alternative-fueled vehicles when I went there on the last day of the show, 12 January 2003.

Honda FCX with DWP colors

The Toyota Prius and Honda Civic and Insight hybrid-electric vehicles are sufficiently "mainstream" now that they hardly stand out at auto shows any more, and the same goes for the ethanol vehicles from various automakers. As for other alternative-fueled vehicles, the theme seemed to be "back to the future," as automakers abandon battery-electric vehicles now in favor of fuel cell vehicles a decade or two from now. This is one of the FCX (Fuel Cell - eXperimental) vehicles that Honda recently placed into service with the fleet of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power; under the auspices of the California Fuel Cell Partnership, automakers are putting their prototype fuel-cell vehicles in "real world" service, to see how they hold up and to gain experience in the logistics of repairs, refueling, etc.

Hydrogen Cobra

This is an unusual vehicle, a hydrogen-powered Shelby Cobra! I saw this in the "specialty vehicles" display downstairs; this was a land-speed record vehicle built by a team at the University of California Riverside. Where fuel-cell vehicles approach the problem of hydrogen power with finesse, this car used brute force: a 526 CID (8.6 liter) engine that runs its fuel tank empty in five minutes "at speed."

LADPW EV1

Actually, there were a few battery-electric vehicles at the auto show; I saw a few GEM neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs), and down in the specialty exhibits area was one GM EV1! This was in a display for the Los Angeles Department of Public Works, drawing attention to information about safe disposal of tires, motor oil, and other hazardous waste. Since GM has quit making EV1s, and is no longer extending the leases on the 1997 and 1999 models they built, I hadn't seen one at an auto show in two years. They are getting rare on the road, too, since GM is taking them away from drivers as their leases run out.

EV1 Death Row

This is where they are ending up, at a GM Powertrain facility parking lot in Van Nuys, California: "EV1 Death Row." You can see a fraction of the dozens of EV1s here, and behind them are dozens more electric S-10 pickups. A few of them will end up in museums, and others will be disassembled for study of wear and tear, but the majority are being kept available to be cannibalized for parts to maintain the few still on the road, and once the last leases run out in late summer 2003 they will all be scrapped.

I have been interested in the EV1 since its genesis in 1990 as the "Impact" concept vehicle; needless to say, I am extremely disappointed at the end of the road for these wonderful cars. A few days before I wrote this report, the California Air Resources Board essentially gutted the near-term provisions of its Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate; whereas originally automakers were required to sell vehicles with no tailpipe emissions, with a ramp-up from 2% in 1998 to 10% in 2003, now they will be able to meet the requirement by selling very clean but non-zero emission vehicles (so-called Partial ZEVs), using "banked" credits for ZEVs they've already placed in service (including a rash of "dumping" NEVs over the last couple of years, an action that showed no commitment to developing a sustainable EV market), and/or building a few fuel-cell vehicle prototypes. As with the Administration's FreedomCAR proposal, all the long-term eggs seem to have been put in the fuel-cell basket; those of us who are interested in seeing ZEVs get established in the vehicle marketplace will have to be vigilant to ensure that the automakers don't do the same thing to fuel cells that they did to battery EVs: make them in Lamborghini-like "demonstration project" numbers (which meant prices never came down with increasing volumes), then fail to educate the public about them, then claim that "there's no market for them" and scrap them after several years.

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