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2017 First Hawaiian International Auto Show

The First Hawaiian International Auto Show, sponsored by First Hawaiian Bank, is held every spring at the Honolulu Convention Center. It doesn't get as many premieres as the Los Angeles Auto Show, but Hawaii is fertile ground for plug-in vehicles (with high gas prices, warm but not extremely hot weather that's easy on batteries, range demands limited by the size of our islands, and an ethos of "mālama ʻāina" or care for the land) and so there are often several examples present at the show. This year's show took place from March 24-26, 2017; I attended on the second day.

BYD E6 electric vehicle

Here is a vehicle that was new to me, from a company that many Americans have never heard of, although it is the world's largest builder of electric vehicles! BYD is a Chinese company (albeit majority owned by American investors, I am told) with a large presence in the United States electric bus market, including manufacturing as well as selling them here, and they are getting ready to make a push into the consumer electric vehicle market here as well. The e6 compact SUV pictured here is generally intended for taxi service; it was displayed by Soderholm Sales and Leasing, a large supplier of transit and handicapped mobility vehicles in Hawaii, and their VP Erik Söderholm was on hand to discuss it (standing by the driver's door in the photo).

BYD E6 charge port

The vehicle on display was a 2014 model, of which about 7000 were built. The charge port, shown here, is a standard used in China and Europe that I had never seen before, but an adapter for the standards used here is of course included. About 250 of these vehicles have been in taxi service as a pilot program on the U.S. mainland; Mr. Söderholm said that this is the first Chinese car in Hawaii, which he had obtained just a couple of weeks earlier.

2017 models are now available, and while only the e6 has been certified to US safety standards, more models are on the way. The vehicle's lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries, which have thermal safety advantages over other lithium chemistries, are made by BYD as well, as are many such batteries in consumer electronics (notably not the Samsung Galaxy Note 7). For legal reasons (it's a manufacturer show rather than a dealer show, or some such) he was not allowed to quote an exact MSRP, and the BYD website just leads to a "get a quote" form, but he said the e6 would start in the "high $50k" range. Range is about 250 miles per charge.

Hyundai Ioniq hybrid

Here's another vehicle whose presence at the show surprised me, the Hyundai Ioniq hybrid. I first saw the new Ioniq line at last year's L.A. Auto Show, and I had understood that hybrid and battery EV versions would be available in February with a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version to follow in the summer. The EV version is rolling out first to California and the same will be true of the PHEV when it's available, but I'm impressed that the hybrid evidently began its 50-state rollout immediately! Of course, it is not unusual for plug-in vehicles to take awhile to get here; for example, Hawaii had to wait a year after the 2016 redesign of the PHEV Chevrolet Volt before the new models were available here. The same will be true of the new Bolt EV, though I was told there is already one on Oahu, brought here by somebody who had purchased it on the mainland. I'll have to keep an eye out for that car as I drive.

2017 Nissan LEAF

Actually, I was a little surprised to see this 2017 Nissan LEAF at the show as well! It's not that the LEAF isn't well established in the Hawaii market; in fact, you can't drive more than a few miles on a major Oahu road without seeing a couple of them. Rather, they are simply in extreme demand at the moment because of a very generous $10k (!) rebate being offered, which has resulted in little or no stock being available at dealers. My wife and I have put a deposit down on one ourselves, and have been waiting a couple of months for the car that our dealer "sniped" from another dealer in California.

Frankly, I am puzzled by the timing and magnitude of this rebate. Of course, it makes sense that vehicles like this with about 100 miles of range per charge will drop in price as new models with about 200 miles of range appear, like the Bolt EV and the forthcoming Tesla Model 3 (and the 2018 LEAF, for that matter). However, if you look at the monthly sales charts from InsideEVs, it's not as if sales had fallen off a cliff so they needed a fire sale to clear their lots. Well, I'm not complaining; we had been planning to hang on to our 2008 (non-plug-in) Prius for a few more years, but a 100-mile vehicle will suit our needs just fine and we saw no need to wait and pay a non-discounted price later for a vehicle with range we won't need. I don't want to jinx myself because it's not a done deal yet, but it looks like more than a quarter century after I first saw the GM Impact prototype (which became the EV1) at the 1990 L.A. Auto Show and got interested in electric cars, I'll finally have one in my garage!

Two chargers in LEAF

Speaking of the LEAF, there was another one parked across the convention hall at the electric utility's display, with both Level III (fast) and Level II (standard) charging cables hooked up. Level II charging requires a 240 volt circuit comparable to a dryer connection (slower Level I charging can be done with an ordinary 110 volt outlet), but faster charging is increasingly available at public stations and the ability to use it is increasingly common on EVs. Of course, you wouldn't hook up both charge connectors at the same time like this if they were actually powered, but the photo shows the significantly larger and heavier cable and "nozzle" on the left that is needed to handle the higher current of fast charging. There is talk of even faster charging standards being developed; I wonder how far it can go before the cables just get too stiff for most people to handle them.

Toyota Mirai and Prius Prime

Finally, over in the Toyota area were this 2017 Mirai fuel-cell vehicle (FCV), and behind it the new Prius Prime PHEV. Like the LEAF, the Prius Prime has a waiting list of a couple of months in Hawaii; the remaining wait for the Mirai to become available here may also be only a few months. At this show last year I met Toyota product specialist Maggie Clark, and she was there this year again. I didn't write up a webpage from that show, but on the page for the 2016 L.A. Auto Show I quoted her as having told me that Hawaii would be the second state (after, of course, California) to receive the Mirai. She told me that a public hydrogen refueling station was being planned on the grounds of the Mapunapuna Servco Toyota dealership, and I later read that it was planned to be opened this past January.

However, even though I did see two Mirais (2015 models, I think) parked near an administration building there when I drove by earlier this year, I saw no sign of construction. I understand that there have been permit problems, and that until recently even the decision as to how they will make the fuel (electrolysis from grid or local renewable electricity, or offsite reforming at a local refinery) had not been finalized. However, she told me at this show that they should be breaking ground soon, and the station may open three or four months after that, at which time the Mirai would become available. She said it would probably be offered here only for lease, not for sale, unlike the rather remarkable circumstance where it is actually for sale in California (other FCVs are lease only). I have bugged the Servco folks about this enough that I hope they will let me know when this all comes together, and I will see if they let me crash the grand opening so I can post a report here. In any case, many thanks to Ms. Clark for giving me the "inside scoop" when I run into her at these shows!

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new 18 April 2017