Alt Car Expo 2011 – Incremental Progress

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.

Wheego LiFe at Alt Car Expo 2011

Wheego LiFe all-electric 2-seater could be a low-impact motorized grocery cart, but at the price of a BMW?

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.

Smart Electric at 2011 Alt Car Expo, Santa Monica, CA

It's difficult to avoid the thought that the Weego LiFe is a Smart Electric with detail differences in the body panels, but no more difficult than imagining a circumstance where they'd make sense as anything but a "green" statement.

Toyota’s Prius brand has expanded to include a crossover, essentially a stretched version of their familiar hatchback sedan.

Toyota Prius V at 2011 Alt Car Expo, Santa Monica, CA

Toyota is moving toward separating Prius as a brand, perhaps like they did with Lexus. The first product in this range expansion is the Crossover Prius V.

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.

Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid at Alt Car Expo, Santa Monica, CA 2011

Toyota showed their new plug-in hybrid Prius. Location remote from the public utility required a little improvisation. An auxiliary generator filled the bill, but it wouldn't do to have it known that their cars were effectively being powered by Honda. A little tape obscured the name, but they did not cover the data plate.

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.

Bio Diesel Big Rig at 2011 Alt Car Expo, Santa Monica, CA

Range is everything for long-haul trucks like this big rig, so electric power is impractical for now. Its BioDiesel fuel is cleaner-burning than petroleum diesel, and it's not made from fossil sources. Moreover, it's a straight 1 to 1 substitution - there is no conversion requirement - so there are benefits.

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.

Tubular Backbone Chassis with batteries in the tube - 2011 Alt Car Expo, Santa Monica, CA.

This inovative all-wheel-drive Electrical Tubular Backbone Chassis has batteries in the tube, identical steerable motor modules at both ends. Intended for military or exploratory work and adaptable to multiple missions, both manned and remote.

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.

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About carmacarcounselor

I'm one of those people that friends call "that car guy," except I've made it into a profession. Since 1988 when a friend found my help in choosing, finding, and negotiating for a new car was worth a fee, I've helped countless people, listening to their car questions and challenges, and helping with their car purchases, insulating them from the adversarial process that is the new car retail model today. Their word of mouth is my only publicity. My newsletter CARMA won the description "The clear crystal ring of truth" from award-winning automotive journalist Denise McCluggage. Now I'm going global!
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