I’m not a “car gal”. I’m not particularly obsessed with automobiles or about blogging on the subject. But I do love going to the auto shows because you can see where the world’s great automakers sense the consumer is heading. And this year, there was no doubt…the world is aiming green. From GM to Mitsubishi to Honda, Ford, and even the luxury brands, all are working at some level on hybrids, to EV plug-ins.
The biggest difference from last year is having moved from concept to an actual vehicle (the Volt) that will be in the hands of drivers within weeks. As well, many of the hybrids have not only moved to a plug-in model,but also added in a 110 volt plug in adaptation. Last year, the concept green vehicles were either hybrid (dual systems — gas-powered and battery) or full electric with a required 220 plug-in. I remember having many conversations about grid and infrastructure last year. The challenge was that homes that would become first adopters would likely have to spend several thousand dollars to add in new electric panels to accomodate the drain. Now, with the 110 plug-in options, it is technically possible to plug-in anywhere. However, to recharge a battery needs about 8-10 hours of recharge time on 110. The reason for charging at night is because your home is mostly “shut-down” and using very little of the grid at that time.
The Volt, for a first entrance of full electric, into the market, is an exceptional product. Our grid, however, from what I’m aware of, is not ready for a full entry into the market. So, the product will become available in select markets over the next few weeks and months, on a limited basis, as the engineers who manage our grid try to figure this one out over time — providing sufficient electric supply in a way that will avoid brown outs and as the extremely high costs for production of these vehicles comes down.
When I attended the Verde Exchange and a BC/California Green Panel, all the top world and local experts had the same concerns on how to make best uses of non-fossil fuel energies to power us up, how to store wind and solar power, and how to transport electricity from storage warehouses across vast distances. So as the automakers gear up to address increasing consumer interest (keep your eyes on LA over the next few months and see how many Volts you spot driving the streets!), the electric companies are running as fast as they can to figure out how to address the transition to cleaner energies.
Why do I love going to the media days at the car shows versus attending with the general population:
- The new vehicle and concept car debuts. I’m including an excerpt of a “reveal” here for those of you who are curious to watch the press storm — this is the Subaru Impreza concept car reveal. (Gets exciting around the 3 minute mark if you don’t have the patience for the whole clip.)
- Access. You have unparalleled access to car designers, engineers, and communications directors. They are surprisingly honest, open, and transparent.
- Demos. I didn’t have the time to test drive this year, but there are 13 green cars available for test drives. Wowza. It was a blast last year and gives you a real jump on understanding the technologies and the challenges greener fuels present to the engineers and designers moving forward.
- No crowds. Other than the presentations, where everyone and their brother crowds around for a better spot (imagine me, 5’6″ in a sea of 6’2″) vying for the “first” shot of a new vehicle, you can pretty much get around without getting too jostled. And as a woman, I can guarantee no lines for a bathroom stall. Here’s me having fun on the Fiesta simulated driver.
…and catching a glimpse of Sharon Stone, car gal extraordinaire, at the Lotus reveals (FIVE of them!)
Back to the Volt. I had a wonderful chat with Richard James, the Product Communications Manager for GM, Western Region, as I still had quite a few questions about the Volt. The car is positioned as the first fully electric vehicle, but it does have a gas-powered assist, so I needed to understand that a bit better. Basically, the car has a gas generator that repowers the battery when it drains to a certain point. So much the same way that if our power goes out, I can pull out the gas generator to keep the electricity running in my home. Kind of like that. The car will fun on full electric to about 50 miles before the gas generator kicks in. So for a commuting car, you’d likely have zero emissions for most of your drive time. However, longer trips, would consume gas in order to power the generator. How that translates into mpg is still to be determined. Marketing VP, Joel Ewanick drove a Volt from Detroit to LA for the car show, logging the trip along the way via Twitter and Posterous. Extended range (because the car only runs 25- 50 miles on electric alone), with only partial charging, the vehicle still managed to average 35-43 mpg highway. From the blog:
From a performance standpoint, we always fell within a 25-50 mile battery range depending on our terrain, temperature and various driving techniques, and that’s even after the nights we only got partial charges. In extended range mode, our fuel economy ranged from about 36-43 mpg depending on the day and how we were driving, but keep in mind we were traveling highway speeds almost exclusively and sometimes up to 80mph (legal speed limit in Utah).
Here is a pic of “said” vehicle…dirt, dust and all! Good marketing idea. The dirty Volt got lots of attention.
The vehicle has already won multiple awards and there is no question. The Volt is going to change the way automakers move forward. The fact that GM is truly first to the table on this one is already being felt in business arenas around the world. Now, the fellow in the car in the pic above, was an ABC reporter. He felt that the interior would lead to more “distracted” driving. I didn’t get the same feeling, sitting in the driver’s seat. There are driving modes, that replace downshifting. On board screens that require a bit of study, but overall, I thought that it would take me all of 5 minutes to figure out all the controls. Bottom line, in this not-so-humble blogger’s opinion, is that fighting the change to electric is like saying that you don’t agree with Facebook. Or the internet. The reality is that our modes of transportation are going to change because the technology says that we can and because we’ll eventually have no choice after having used up every natural resource available to us on the planet. Next will be solar cars, lite cars (the design competition was for vehicles 1000 pounds maximum), and every iteration that you can think of…that moves us away from reliance on fossil fuels. I’m all for it. I’m in. And if there is any doubt, keep scrolling below for just a teeny sampling of green that was all over the showroom floors.
Honda made a compelling presentation of their EV, anticipated for 2012, which means, they, too, are moving past hybrid to EV.
More pics as promised (Click on first pic, page will refresh, scroll back down to start slideshow!):
If you are in LA, enjoy the Auto Show! It is running November 19th through the 28th.