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2017 Los Angeles Auto Show

I've only missed the Los Angeles Auto Show a couple of times in the past thirty years, even though I moved to Hawaii in 2007. This year, while traveling to the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans, I was able to extend my layover at LAX long enough to rent a car and catch the last day of this year's show, which ran from December 1st to 10th, before flying on. This will be a long report, even though I am leaving out many of the interesting vehicles I saw! About a decade ago, hybrids started to become so common that, for the most part, I stopped keeping track of them at auto shows; it's starting to seem that plug-in vehicles, both battery-only electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), are approaching this threshold. My feet hurt after walking from one to another for five hours, but I was sure happy as I got on my next flight.

Tesla Model 3

Of the new models on display, the most eagerly awaited alternative-fueled vehicle was doubtless the Tesla Model 3, their new affordable sedan. This was the first time I had seen one in person; I'm glad I paid $15 extra for a ticket that let me in the door two hours early, since when I came back later the car was so mobbed that I wouldn't have been able to get a clear photo! I heard one of the Tesla reps say that the waiting list has gotten so long that, if you put a deposit down now, it'll be two years before you get your car.

Tesla display

Another Tesla first was a display in one of the main exhibition halls. At this show last year, they had a display with a couple of vehicles and an Airstream trailer (to demonstrate the towing capabilities of the Model X) in a side space, but this time they went all out. In addition to the Models S, X, and 3, the "house" in the center demonstrates their solar panels and Powerwall battery. All that was missing was their semi truck and Roadster 2!

2018 Nissan LEAF

Another eagerly-awaited vehicle is the new 2018 Nissan LEAF, with up to twice the range per charge of the 2017 model. Along with the Tesla Model 3 and the Chevrolet Bolt EV that was introduced a year ago, this is part of the new wave of affordable longer-range electric vehicles that is expanding the market way beyond "early adopters." In order to avoid the "Osborne Effect," where announcements about a forthcoming new and improved model kill sales of the present product, Nissan throughout this year has been offering $10,000 (!) rebates on the 2017 model at certain places around the country (my family took advantage of this offer, taking delivery on Earth Day, which seemed appropriate), and it has been successful in keeping sales up so that the 2017s are pretty much sold out; however, the 2018 model won't be available in the United States until January. Once they do arrive, though, look out; the Bolt EV has topped U.S. plug-in sales for three of the last four months, and as I mentioned above demand for the Tesla Model 3 is tremendous despite some early production delays, so one can expect lots of interest in a long-range EV that inherits the seven-year track record of the most popular battery EV in the country.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and Re-Model A

Yet another eagerly-awaited vehicle, at least among those who pay attention to the market for plug-in vehicles outside the United States, is the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, which has been extremely popular overseas for some years but has not been available here. No, not the vehicle in the foreground with the century-old styling; that's the Re-Model A, which is a reimagining of the first Mitsubishi vehicle, the 1917 Model A, built on the Outlander PHEV chassis. The new vehicle is the black one with hood and liftgate open; there was also a modified (overseas) model, not in the picture, that ran in the 2015 Baja Portalegre rally. At the show I was told that the 2018 vehicle would reach U. S. dealers before the end of December, but recently I read that it may be delayed into early 2018. Well, whenever it arrives, it will be a welcome alternative to the (much more expensive) Tesla Model X in the plug-in SUV market!

Honda Clarity FCV, PHEV, EV

The Honda Clarity FCV (fuel-cell vehicle) was introduced about a year ago, and in the past few months it has been joined by EV and PHEV versions. This red, white, and blue trio was the first time I had seen the two newer versions (the vehicles are FCV, PHEV, and EV respectively). This is a very comfortable-looking car, but Honda seems to be counting heavily on the "nicer than a LEAF or Bolt" factor to sell the EV version: it only has 89 miles of range per charge, at a time when "table stakes" is moving from 100 miles to 200 miles and beyond. I'm not sure what to make of that, but I will keep an eye on sales of the vehicle going forward.

Mini EV concept

There were numerous North American debuts, or even world debuts, of alternative-fueled vehicles at this show; in fact, all the remaining vehicles pictured on this page fall into these categories! Really getting spoiled here... For starters, here is the MINI Electric Concept; I also saw the Countryman PHEV here for the first time. Actually, there was an electric MINI E available (for lease only) several years ago; I saw one at the 2010 Honolulu Auto Show, so it was even available outside California (not all limited-production plug-in vehicles were, or are). However, it was made in such small numbers that InsideEVs doesn't bother to include them in their tabulation of "early modern" plug-in vehicles.

Volkswagen I.D. vehicles

Volkswagen brought three concept vehicles from their forthcoming I.D. line of EVs; the red, yellow, and white vehicles are the Crozz crossover, the Buzz microbus, and a hatchback for which I couldn't find a specific namezz. The Buzz has been around for several months, but this was the North American debut of the other two. I was told that the Crozz would be out in 2020, and the Buzz in 2022.

Range Rover PHEVs

Luxury marques are also stepping up their plug-in game, some with additional or improved vehicles and some for the first time. In the latter category is Land Rover, which gave us the North American debuts of their PHEV Range Rover and Range Rover Sport.

Jaguar EVs

Last year Jaguar showed a prototype of their I-PACE electric SUV and a Formula E race car; this year they showed a near-production I-PACE, with availability planned for summer 2018. (The version offered to customers will have 18" or 22" wheels rather than 23" as shown, and you can get the "Growler" logo on the grill as here or, for $500 more, the traditional "Leaper" hood ornament.) Displayed between the showroom vehicle and the Formula E car is the modified I-PACE (North American debut) that is driven in the first production electric vehicle racing circuit, the I-PACE eTROPHY.

BMW i8 Roadster

BMW offers several plug-in vehicles, including versions of their 3, 5, 7, and X5 series and the dedicated "i" range. The i3 is among the top ten plug-in vehicles sold in the United States, and the red version here is the new (North American debut), sportier i3s version. In front of it is a new (world premiere) 2-seater soft-top Roadster version of the high-performance i8, which will be available in Spring 2018.

BMW i Vision Dynamics

All of the BMW plug-ins to date are PHEVs; they also showed (North American debut) this i Vision Dynamics concept vehicle. BMW Group plans to introduce 25 "electrified" models by 2025; I'm not sure if that term is intended to include non-plug-in hybrids (it's used that way by some automakers), but 12 of them are to be full battery-only EVs, and this concept vehicle shows what they are thinking of along those lines for BMW branded vehicles (MINI, with the concept EV above, is also part of the BMW Group).

Redspace concept

I've only made room on this long webpage for vehicles that were new to me, or the continent, or the world, and I haven't even shown all that were at this show! There was a prototype of the Bollinger B1, a heavy-duty electric "classic three-box" off-road truck; there were several electric three-wheelers, including the Toyota FV2 and i-Road concepts and prototypes from Arcimoto, Sondors, and Ampere. One of the most unusual prototypes was this one, from Project Redspace; it is intended for the Chinese market, with possible later availability in the United States. The front and rear windshields lean outward at the top, not inward, which counterintuitively lets the designers shape airflow to reduce drag and also allows for a big flat roof for solar panels to power the climate control. The sliding door and its track move outward when opened, to create "eaves" over a rider as he or she folds an umbrella to come in from the rain; and the seating is reconfigurable and rotatable to accommodate anything from a family of four to a mobile office. Weird-looking, to be sure, but that's usually the result of "clean sheet of paper" design, which is what they're going for.

Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell

Let me close with a vehicle that looks very much like its conventionally-powered counterpart (far from "weird-looking"), but that has a drivetrain of a type that I have not seen before (displayed on a bare chassis to the rear). This is the Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell, making its North American debut. The transparent sign is hard to read in the photo, but it says "Plug-In Hybrid"; however, this is not your usual PHEV, with a battery-electric drivetrain backed up by a gasoline engine. The F-Cell name is shared with the early prototype fuel-cell vehicle based on the A-Class compact car, which I first saw at a fuel-cell road rally in 2003, and this is in fact an FCV; however, it is the first one I have seen that can also plug in to charge from the electrical grid! Every other FCV of which I'm aware gets all its power from hydrogen, which also means that it is limited by the sparse hydrogen refueling infrastructure; this vehicle, though, can also plug in to an electrical outlet to go where hydrogen is not available. It's kind of a reversal of the "ordinary" PHEV, which is usually thought of as having gasoline as a backup for when you have trouble finding somewhere to get electricity...

This was an auto show full of good news for those of us who want to see alternative fuels become less alternative! We're starting to get serious "mindshare"; at one level, of course, this is exemplified by other automakers trying to get a piece of the intense consumer interest that surrounds Tesla, but I overheard something at this show that I think is even more encouraging. As I walked by a Dodge Ram 3500 Heavy-Duty pickup, a small boy asked, "Dad, that's electric? That's electric?" Daddy had to reply "I don't think so..."; but if we are earning the kids' interest, we are winning the future!

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new 15 December 2017