Green Cars at the 2008 Greater L.A. Auto Show

By Jeffrey the Barak

Are any of these cars truly green?

The Greater Los Angeles Auto-Show, Green Car Ride and Drive Event, November 20th 2008.

Participating Vehicles

  • Audi A7 TDI (clean diesel)
  • BMW 335d (diesel)
  • Chevy Equinox Fuel Cell
  • Chrysler Aspen (hybrid)
  • Dodge Ram 3500 (biodiesel)
  • Ford Fusion Hybrid
  • Honda FCX Clarity (fuel cell)
  • Mercedes-Benz ML320 BlueTEC SUV (diesel)
  • Mercedes-Benz GL320 BlueTEC clean (diesel)
  • Mercury Mariner (hybrid)
  • Mini E (electric)
  • Mitsubishi i-MiEV (electric)
  • Nissan X-Trail FCV (fuel cel)
  • Saturn Vue 2 Mode Hybrid
  • Smart fortwo
  • Volvo C30
  • VW Jetta TDI (diesel)
  • VW Touareg TDI (diesel)

I decided not to focus on any of the diesels and clean diesels, because it’s still diesel and it still stinks, even if you use much less these days and less smoke makes it out the end of the tailpipe.

Bio diesel has such a large eco-footprint that it’s barely worth pursuing. It does not help the environment whatsoever with it’s current method of growth, harvesting and distribution.

The hybrids use less fuel than similar non-hybrids, but the additional cost on the price tag requires a lot of high mileage driving to recover the cost, and you still need to burn gas in order to use them.

Small and light cars such as the Smart Fortwo, and the four seater Volvo C30 are normal cars, they just save money and the environment by being small. They are not the giant enormous cars that most Americans are convinced they need to transport one little person two miles down the road.

Fuel cell cars would be great if the hydrogen was not produced by dirty sources and delivered by dirty tanker trucks. But they are, so they are not so far in any position where they can be said to making the Earth any greener. It’s coal for goodness sake!

So that just leave all-electric. Again, most electricity is generated by the burning of coal so it’s tempting to rule these out as well, but with more wind and solar power coming online, then electric cars get greener all the time. The batteries are not exactly eco-friendly when they reach their end, but electric cars are still undeniably cleaner than combustion vehicles.

Mitsubishi and BMW have presented two real, in-production, practically non-prototype, definitely non-concept cars which are true all-electric cars.

Mitsubishi has their i-MiEV, a small car with four doors and room for four inside, and BMW has an all-electric version of their very successful Mini, except this one is a two seater.

The iMiEV has an onboard charger so you can plug into your normal home’s outlets, or into a quick charger, a few of which can be found in most cities. The car uses very efficient electric motor and high energy density lithium-ion batteries. It’s as simple as that and it’s ready to go, with more than enough range for most people who drive each day and return home each evening.

The BMW mini with it’s single passenger seat is clearly a bit less practical, but nevertheless, it’s fabulous and more fun than most two-seaters that are stinking around wasting fuel for no good reason.

These two very real cars are almost here now and setting the stage for our inevitable path to all-electric cars. All this other stuff, bio-diesel, clean diesel, normal diesel, hydrogen, gasoline hybrids, etc. is just a diversion. We have to head towards the electric light at the end of the smoky tunnel.

Of course there are others. To name a few there are:
Tesla Motors Electric Roadster (A Lotus Elan based two seater)
BYD (China) E6 Electric Car
Miles XS500 (retro-ugly small electric sedan)
Subaru R1e
Tango (George Clooney has one of these dragster-fast single-seaters that resemble giant work-boots)
Wrightspeed X1 (insanely fast street legal electric racing car)

So how do these two electric cars at the L.A. Auto Show event feel? How do they drive?

The BMW Mini E

The BMW Mini E has a very impressive driving range of “up to 150” miles. It accelerates very quickly, going from 0 to 62 MPH in 8.5 seconds, and in such a way that gives you the kick right at zero, no delay as with combustion engined cars.

The Mini’s top speed is 95 MPH and it;s lithium ion batteries can be recharged from any standard power outlet. However the specially installed wall box can fully recharge the car from dead to full in 2.5 hours.

Releasing the “gas pedal”, which of course is no such thing, causes dynamic deceleration, meaning the slowing of the vehicle charges the batteries by using the motor as a generator.

But here is the catch, at least for now. Much like the old GM EV1 immortalized in the film “Who killed the electric car”, the minis will initially only be available on a one year lease with an extension option, and in three of the fifty United States only.

The driving experience in normal slow traffic conditions is much the same as that in the standard BMW mini, except you don’t hear an engine or an exhaust note or feel the rumble of a combustion engine. It is of course extremely quiet, the only obvious sound being that of suspension, wind, etc. The main difference in feel is when you take your right foot of the go pedal and sense the regenerative braking effect that helps give this car it’s impressive range.

The biggest difference visually comes when you look over your shoulder. Instead of the familiar rear seat of the Mini and Mini Cooper, there is a black box between you and the trunk space. As I said earlier, this is a fun car to drive, and let’s not forget it’s main points, no engine, no exhaust, no gas tank, no emissions.

The Mitsubishi i-MiEV

A good looking small car with plenty of room for two in the back, but nevertheless unconventional looking, as it can be since there is no engine. The rear end does look a bit odd, but there’s no reason it should look like a car with an engine.

There are about 30 or so of these running around Tokyo. But as the promotional video shows, at least one has been driven around in the Los Angeles area and it may well be the same on on the floor at the Auto Show today.

Again this car rests it’s hopes on lithium ion batteries. They are clearly the most promising rechargeables on the automotive landscape this year, and the i MiEV has 22 of them at the bottom of the car.

A good car to compare this to is the Mitsubishi i Turbo, which has a three-cylinder gasoline combustion engine. But the i MiEV’s direct-drive, no-tranmission electric motor will take it from 0-60 MPH in just under 9 seconds and the top speed is around 82 MPH.

But there are two driving modes, Sport and Eco. The latter takes away the racy performance, but increases the range. Even in Eco mode, it’s not a slow car and it’s still faster than the tiny cars on the road. Mitsubishi say the range is “up to 100 miles”. It may or may not achievable, but considering that Chevrolet is asking for billions of taxpayer dollars to be so gracious as to give us an expensive Chevy Volt with a pathetic “up to 40 mile range”, I say hats off to our patriotic friends at Mitsubishi. They are America’s friends, not the lunatics and national saboteurs over at General Motors.

However, with real-world range of around 60 miles, (using climate control and enjoying the occasional burst of gratifying speed), and a full recharge that takes 14 hours on a normal domestic outlet or about an hour on the wall mount, this car may not have enough energy capacity to be considered as your one and only daily driver. But it’s getting there and Mitsubishi have done a fine job using todays latest technology.

The i MiEV is not exactly here yet. It may be generally available to anyone in Japan in about a year in late 2009.

Is it time yet?

The consumer looking for an electric car in 2008 and 2009 might be best advised to wait, and in the meantime, lighten up on that right foot and drive in such a way as to conserve fuel. Eventually, range will improve and more electricity will be coming from non-polluting sources such as wind, and less from coal. Then we will be able to watch as more and more cars go all-elecric.

3 Comments

  1. Great info. Once again you supply an easy-to-read article with a few good pictures.
    I was up and reading this article before 2 a.m. and googled to a few short videos about (who killed the) electric cars. I guess it wont be in “my time” to be able to “pop into” a dealership showroom and drive out with a tiny exciting electric car..SO lemme go back to sleep, and maybe dream about driving one…
    Thanks,
    Lou.

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