Santa Monica – September 30, 2011
Not Much New
The Alt Car Expo in Santa Monica is becoming an annual fixture, as are some of its featured exhibits. The Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf were back in force, bolstered by purchases by municipalities seeking to demonstrate their green credentials. The Smart Car-size Weego BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) was back too. The larger five-passenger Coda BEV, yet to deliver a car to a customer, was back too, but they were not offering test drives.
Mercedes builds the Smart car, and there has never been a less appropriately-named vehicle. Slow, with a choppy ride, awful transmission, and sloppy handling, it’s hard to imagine what adding electric power could do to help, but the elimination of the need for a transmission removes one irritant.
Toyota’s Prius brand has expanded to include a crossover, essentially a stretched version of their familiar hatchback sedan.
They also offered rides in their new plug-in Hybrid that is not yet for sale, and showed the latest iteration of their electric RAV-4 ShUV (Short Utility Vehicle), the original of which could be seen in regular duty in the Santa Monica Municipal fleet.
Inside the Convention hall, major and minor players exhibited technologies and products from the fringes to the mainstream. BMW had an electric 1-Series Coupe, benefitting from their experience with the Mini-e development cars. I don’t know. With a trunk given over mostly to batteries and a limited range, it prompts the question, “who’d want one?”.
There were electric bicycles and go-carts, as well as electric and fuel-cell powered commercial vehicles. Vendors were pushing solar chargers, natural gas compressors, and all the other usual alternative fuels like bio-diesel.
I couldn’t resist a little baiting of the guy promoting E-85, the fuel blended with 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. Its literature correctly cited higher octane and the resulting higher power potential, while faililng to mention that there are no vehicles currently being produced that can take advantage of it. Most critics dismiss it as a farm-belt boondoggle and a way for Detroit to get “green” credits for Flex-fuel gas-guzzlers that will never burn a drop of E-85 because it’s hard to find and lowers gas mileage.
Once again it’s interesting to watch which ideas take hold and which fail to attract enough interest to survive, like so many of the exhibitors from last year’s show that did not return. I missed the electric motorcycles that had me excited last year, for instance. Which of this year’s crop will show up next year? Stay tuned.