Press day at the Los Angeles motor show yesterday was yet another about going green – or at least, the promise of such things. If the three American domestic makers realise the goals they announced, then this 2007 LA show could be a landmark - though you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you strode around the emptying halls in the afternoon.But while the American big three were in large part about the promise or the introduction of new models with known green technology, such as hybrids, Honda was embarking on a real eco-revolution with the announcement of a production version of its zero-emission, hydrogen fuel-cell Honda FCX Clarity saloon.Few will be built, and they are all to be leased on three-year deals to selected customers, but this is a major achievement. So exactly how many will be built? Honda wasn’t saying. It’s likely to keep numbers very limited for cost reasons, and reports of a run of a just one hundred have been rumoured. However, that will still be 100 road-going fuel cell cars the world did not have before, and as such a milestone in the history of the car.
Ford CEO says ‘JLR’ sale ‘continues solidly’
Ford boss Alan Mulally, who rarely makes a public appearances or grants interviews, kicked off the day with a chatty, informal talk that was long on charm but short on hard facts – or space for questions from the floor.He was predictably bullish about the prospects of a very troubled Blue Oval, though there has been encouraging progress in the reduction of its losses, which are now a fraction of their rate a year ago. Indeed, Mulally is predicting a profit for 2009. He also got revved up about the new Lincolns the company has coming, even suggesting that this domestic marque was generating models strong enough to provide the company with a premium global brand. So why not keep Jaguar and Land Rover, wondered the assembled British hacks, fine global premium brands both. There was little new on the sale of these marques, other than confirmation that the sale process was advancing solidly. But perhaps Ford’s quieter approach to the announcement of ground-breaking green technologies is shrewder, given the broken promises we’ve witnessed from many manufacturers over the introduction of fuel cell cars. Like GM, Ford is hard at it on the development of plug-in fuel cell hybrids, but has made less noise about the when and where. It is also making much of the benefits of achieving small but real improvements in fuel economy across tens of thousands of the cars it sells, through weight reduction, improved aerodynamics and the roll-out of downsized, direct injection turbo engines. The new Lincoln MKS saloon, a mostly handsome beast – intriguingly, based on the old Volvo P2x S80 platform rather than the Mondeo hardware underpinning the latest S80 – is an example with its new direct injection turbo V6, claimed to offer the power of a V8.
GM heralds Chevy hybrid, biofuel, fuel cell and E-Flex models
General Motors, Bob Lutz, meanwhile, announced that Chevrolet was to become a champion of ‘fuel solutions’, with a whole array of CO2- reducing drivetrains, many for existing models. Most significant of these, perhaps, are the dual-mode hybrids being offered in its many gargantuan SUVs and pick-up trucks, powerpacks that can generate an almost 50 percent reduction in fuel consumption. On trucks and pick-ups this big – and popular – that should yield genuine improvements in the near-term. Besides new hybrids there were more E85 ethanol vehicles, the fuel cell Equinox SUV (on limited availability to selected users, now including Disney) and in the medium term, the much-admired Chevrolet Volt E-Flex vehicle. Lutz has openly talked of a 2010 debut for this plug-in hybrid – GM prefers to call an extended-range electric vehicle – but when you hear the impressively enthusiastic talk from the staff tasked with delivering this car you realise what a lofty goal this is. The first experimental lithium-ion battery was delivered to GM on October 31st, and it won’t be installed in a running prototype until the summer of 2008. And there are still cooling, packaging, crash and durability issues to be solved, never mind the task of integrating this drivetrain into the next generation Delta platform family (that’s the Astra to you and me) just 18 months after that. But you can see the excitement and determination the Volt project has inspired inside GM, so, you never know.
Chrysler’s big hybrid debutants
The last of the domestics – Chrysler – was making less noise about green machinery, but nevertheless rolled out two big hybrids in the shape of the Dodge Durango Hemi Hybrid and Chrysler Aspen Hemi Hybrid, a pair of large SUVs that share a platform and the new dual-mode hybrid technology that Chrysler has inherited from former owner Daimler’s collaborative hybrid deal with GM and BMW. Like the full-size GM trucks and SUVs, these two offer the potential for significant fuel savings, especially in conjunction with the company’s V8 cylinder deactivation technology.
Volkswagen gets in on the environmental agenda
It wasn’t just American makers beating the green drum. VW showed the third concept in its Up! trilogy of rear-engined concept cars, the VW Space Up! Blue concept being the most striking and appealing yet. A combination of VW Microbus, Toyota Scion and Mini Clubman, this cute, five-door box had loads of the cheeky charm that VWs were once famous for. The concept is hydrogen fuel-cell-propelled, but R&D man Ulrich Hackenberg, who looked somewhat fazed by legendary basketball player and co-presenter John ‘Spider’ Smalley – dismissed this powertrain as ‘pie in the sky’. The real thing, out ‘by the end of the decade’, will come with a TDI diesel engine ‘as a pledge to save the environment,’ said Hackenberg.
Other LA stars
Of course, LA wasn’t all green, though that was the colour of the desirable Ford Bullitt Mustang. Aside from a modest power-boost to 313bhp, some engine-turned dashboard trim and badging, this 7700-strong limited edition celebration of the movie car, complete with ‘Euroflange Bullitt wheels’ was little different from the stock ‘Stang. Dead desirable, though.Nissan showed its much-anticipated Nissan GT-R road car to the American public for the first time, and announced that it'll cost just under $70,000 over there; the equivalent of less than £35,000. Don't expect them to be so generous with the car's price tag when it comes to the UK in 2009.Hyundai also had a new coupe, the Hyundai Genesis coupe concept in fact, a strong hint at a more upmarket coupe with – high fives – rear-drive. A sister rear-drive saloon, out in 2008, precedes it, while the concept Veloster, also unveiled, signals the way for the cheaper Coupe’s replacement.One of the show’s odder cars came from Audi, the not unattractive Audi Cross Cabriolet Quattro being a four-seat drop-top version of the Q5 crossover, inspired by the 1948 Willys Jeepster, of all things. The cabriolet won’t make production, but a conventionally-roofed version, using the new A4/A5 platform, will appear next year – and with what Audi believes could be the world’s cleanest diesel, a V6 meeting Euro 6 emission levels using Adblue additives. Not even an homage to a 1948 Jeep could escape the green veil that marked this show.