Well, this was my very first auto show, so I have nothing to compare it
to, but my overwhelming feeling is that it was a good one. I drooled
over the high performance cars with their sequin-clad beauties. I got
up-close with the Tesla Roadster, talked with executives from several
auto-companies, and finally met some fellow members of the online
media. I saw Tiger Woods and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But, most
importantly, I felt a lot of excitement surrounding what I think is actually
a kind of revolution of the automobile industry.
Now, I could be wrong about this, maybe every year seems revolutionary,
but there was an overwhelming theme of this conference in my eyes, and
it's one that has a lot of power. Diversity.
In Rick Wagoner's keynote, he pointed out that 100 years ago there was
no standard way to power an automobile. Electric cars, steam cars and
gasoline cars all shared the market. Now, that's not so much the case,
but it's becoming obvious that gasoline is going to have to give up its
monopoly on powering transportation.
The choices are expanding every year. Ethanol and bio-diesel are
already interfering with petroleum's hegemony, and synthetic fuels are
hot on their heals. BMW's new Hydrogen 7 lets the driver choose between
hydrogen and gasoline while Honda is, for the first time, getting ready
to release a fuel cell vehicle to the public market.
GM's Flex Fuel line lets
people fill their tanks with gas or E85, the Tesla Roadster will soon
be available as the first all-electric performance car and compressed
natural gas vehicles, that you can fill up in your own garage, are
becoming viable options as well.
I could be wrong, but I think I just mentioned around seven different
ways that cars will definitely be powered in the future. Electricity,
hydrogen combustion, hydrogen fuel cells, natural gas, ethanol,
bio-diesel, and synthetic fuels...yep, seven. And that doesn't even
include different types of powertrains and electricity storage.
People had fewer choices in 1990 than in 1910, but now, they have more.
Diversity and choice is what this world needs right now. 100% reliance
on gasoline does not work and every major auto manufacturer seems to
recognize that. I thought the LA Auto Show was going to just be pomp
and fluff, but it was a bunch of real people with good ideas who are
excited about the future of their industry. Honestly, I'm excited about
the future of their industry as well, and I hope it comes soon.
Yes indeed! Hummer went up against eight other environmentally aware
concept vehicles of the future and came out victorious. The awards
ceremony was a little disappointing due to lack of any actual
substance, but I guess that's what awards ceremonies are.
The Hummer O2, which is a fuel cell powered concept that is housed in
algae-filled panels that 'give back to the environment' by converting
CO2 to oxygen, won EcoGeek's "Most Peculiar Design" award a while back
While it is quite cool, we're still voting for the Toyota RLV, which is
an electric vehicle that can also be powered by petals, when you're in
the mood to save energy and get a workout.
Maybe we're focusing too much on how plausible the vehicles actually
are. A vehicle that actually decreases the amount of CO2 in the
a pretty cool idea. Even if you could get the same effect
by filling a few two liter bottles with lake water and putting them in
The Saturn Vue is a small SUV with sleek lines and good gas mileage
(for an SUV). Already, the car has a hybrid option, and the LA Auto
Show has seen two exciting announcements concerning the Vue. First, the
2007 Vue Hybrid will have significantly increased fuel economy, from
20% better than the non-hybrid to over 40% better than the non-hybrid.
But, of course, the most exciting news is that GM is committing to a
plug-in hybrid Vue. Simply, an expanded battery pack will be charged at
home, and the electrical motor will run more frequently, significantly
increasing the efficiency of the vehicle.
The specs aren't out yet, and neither is the release date. But GM is
the first major auto company to release plans to produce a plug-in
General Motors has repeatedly stated that it's not a huge fan of hybrid
vehicles. The hybrid drivetrain, they say, is redundant, thus making
the vehicle heavier, more complex, more expensive and more difficult to
service an recycle. This is absolutely the truth, but besides a true
EV, there aren't any other low emissions technologies out there...yet.
With the plug-in Vue, I see an actual commitment to exploring
technologies fast (though significantly slower than hobbyists, of
course.) We'll see where this vision carries GM in the future, and
whether they'll be the first company with plug-in vehicles on the road.
This morning, as Rick Wagoner finished his keynote speech at the L.A.
Auto Show, a couple of guys showed up on stage and took control of the
room for a couple seconds. "Mr Wagoner, we are very excited to hear
about all of your commitments to green technology, will you sign this
pledge to make GM the most fuel efficient automobile company by 2010?"
The response was curt but friendly, "I think my speech spoke for
itself." Rick actually then posed for some pictures with the guy and
nobody got punched, headlocked, arrested or even kicked out.
The good news is that GM made a lot of very exciting announcements
today, and that the activists recognized that. But their point is still
valid. GM has a very inefficient fleet, and has been slow to go after
real-world, short-term solutions.
The Saturn Vue 2-mode hybrid, the promise of a plug-in version in the
next few years, and maybe more interesting news on the horizon for Detroit are all far more near-term than their commitment to fuel cell
vehicles. And, until today, we hadn't heard that kind of commitment to
currently available near-term technologies from GM.
It's very comforting to see the interaction between activists who
realize that auto companies are starting to move in sustainable
directions, and auto-companies who are starting to realize that
sustainability is extremely important to their business. It's like cats
and dogs furtively cuddling in the chilly dawn of ecological
instability. I find it extremely encouraging and kinda adorable.