Los Angeles Auto Show - Green Cars

See the Gas-Sipping New Cars Everyone Will Be Talking About

The 2009 Los Angles Auto Show is a showcase for new hybrids, micro cars, clean diesels, battery electrics and more.


honda p-nut
Honda's tiny and green P-NUT. (Honda photo)

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I love the idea of the Honda P-NUT. Or maybe it's just the name I like. P-NUT stands for Personal-Neo Urban Transport, and it's the Japanese automaker's latest attempt at an ultra-compact urban vehicle with a tiny "footprint."
The P-NUT was just one of the curious green-themed cars unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show, which starts this week. This urban commuter thing is gaining ground. Toyota is bringing out an electric car for urban drivers, General Motors' Project PUMA (in coordination with Segway) is a very quirky gyroscopically balanced approach to the same issue, and BMW says to stay tuned, because its own urban battery car is imminent.
But the P-NUT is unique, designed to maneuver in tight settings, with a central driving position (and a rear-mounted powertrain that so far is agnostic as to internal combustion, battery electric or hybrid).
"A new generation is discovering the benefits of living in urban centers that provide convenient access to business, entertainment and social opportunities," said Dave Marek, a Honda design spokesman. "The P-NUT concept explores the packaging and design potential for a vehicle conceived exclusively around the city lifestyle."
The 11-foot micro car (a product of LA's Honda Advanced Design Studio) seats three, with two rear-seat passengers flanking the driver. The rear sets fold up -- shades of the company's versatile Fit (ask the man who owns one, me).
The show itself is already on for the press, and they've been royally entertained. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger took a ride in BMW's ultra-green Vision EfficientDynamics hybrid, which can travel 431 miles before refueling or charging. His reaction is unrecorded, but he looks happy in the photo.

schwarzenegger and the bmw vision
Infiniti brought the press to the SLS Hotel Beverly Hills to debut the M and G series cars...with a simulcast on Facebook. The novelty of that wore off quickly, but it was interesting to hear Shiro Nakamura, Infiniti's senior vice president of design, say things like, "Our expression comes from the power of nature. It is a living force flowing from within." He said the company's cars are influenced by Japanese kabuki.
Meanwhile, comments from Facebook folks were streaming by: "That was it??" one asked. "It could have been done much better," said another. "It can't be over." Yes, 15 minutes and it was over. They barely mentioned the hybrid and battery Infinitis that are on the way.
GM rolled out a version of the Chevrolet Volt that is 90% production-ready (check out the video of Popular Mechanics testing the Volt). Some software controls remain to be finished up. But GM, fresh from having informed a waiting nation that Fritz Henderson was out as CEO, shocked observers anew with the information that the car will initially be available only in California.
Other cool show cars included the Chevrolet Cruz, a global small car for GM (replacing the Cobalt). Unlike the Volt, this is one that is likely to sell in the millions and really change the environmental equation.
The Lexus LF-Ch (below) is a hot hatch shown in LA as a hybrid, though it will go into production as a standard gas car, too (though maybe not in the U.S.) For us, Lexus is a luxury brand, though it's already gotten heavily into hybrids.
Lexus LF-Ch
Hybrids were everywhere in LA. Even the $2,500 Tata Nano is going hybrid (though not at that price).
The two-passenger, very narrow Volkswagen L1 is just as quirky as the P-NUT, with the driver in front of the passenger. A hybrid drivetrain is packed into a carbon-fiber frame weighing just 838 pounds, and the slippery (more aerodynamic than a Prius) little thing is said to deliver 170 mpg.
I'd like to see the Capstone super-car, which uses a diesel (and biodiesel-friendly) micro-turbine to deliver low-emission performance (and blistering speed). It has 80 miles of all-electric range, too. Come to think of it, I'd like to drive it, not see it.
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