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L.A. Auto Show Goes Green


2008 Honda FCX

2008 Honda FCX

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With his keynote speech at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show, Wednesday morning, General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner is expected to strike a decidedly “green” theme. It’s likely to be a note echoed by many of GM’s competitors in the days to come.

Sources tell TheCarConnection.com that the giant automaker is readying an array of advanced prototypes designed to deliver high mileage and extremely low emissions, including both electric vehicles and so-called plug-in hybrids. The vehicles will be unveiled during a number of upcoming auto shows, including the North American International Auto Show, in January.

 

More significantly, GM intends to put several of those prototypes into production in “the relatively near future,” according to a high-ranking company insider. The plug-in hybrid, confirmed a second GM source, would provide enough battery power onboard to allow the typical U.S. commuter to travel to and from work “without ever having to use any fossil fuels.”

 

GM has been an also-ran in the hybrid market, trailing its arch-rival, the Japanese giant Toyota Motor Co. Now the U.S. maker is struggling to catch up. It recently launched its first true hybrid, a version of the Saturn Vue crossover. About a year from now, GM will launch additional hybrid vehicles using a new “two-mode” technology developed as part of a joint venture with DaimlerChrysler and BMW.

 

But plug-ins are an entirely different breed of mileage-minded vehicles, blending what proponents argue are the best aspects of today’s hybrids and battery-powered electric vehicles. An owner could connect a plug-in to an electric socket and recharge its batteries, which would be larger than those in a vehicle like the Vue, but smaller than those in GM’s old EV1 electric vehicle. That would provide enough power for somewhere between 50 and 75 miles, according to sources, more than enough for the typical commute. And were a motorist to need to travel longer distances, the vehicle would automatically fire up its gasoline engine when the batteries were discharged.

 

Specific details are being tightly held, but GM is expected to reveal its plans in more detail over the coming months. Critically, the prototypes it plans to show are expected to resemble the EVs and plug-ins it actually intends to put into production before decade’s end.

 

GM isn’t the only automaker looking to use LA and other upcoming auto shows to emphasize green technology. BMW will come to the City of Angels with a hydrogen-powered version of its big 760Li sedan. The German marque intends to produce about 100 of the new Hydrogen 7, half of which will go into operation in the Los Angeles area.

 

Ford, meanwhile, will pull the wraps off its exploreR, a fuel-cell-powered version of the popular SUV that reportedly will be able to drive up to 350 miles on a tank of hydrogen. Delivering comparable range to a conventional, gasoline vehicle has been a tough hurdle for fuel cell researchers to clear.

 

Honda will be showing off the latest version of its own fuel-cell vehicle, the FCX, in Los Angeles. The Japanese prototype boasts a downsized fuel cell “stack,” longer range, and improved performance over previous Honda fuel cell vehicles.

 

Nissan will weigh in with its first hybrid-electric vehicle, a version of the Altima mid-size sedan.


 
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