No shortage of ‘green’ tech from the Big Three domestics

At the recent Los Angeles Auto Show there was no shortage of shiny objects, even in the ‘green’ department this year.

It’s no longer the new kid on the block

My wife thinks I’m easily distracted by shiny objects—and I am—particularly the automotive kind.

At the recent Los Angeles Auto Show, there was no shortage of such distractions, even though I’m covering the ‘green’ beat this year.

Electric, hybrid and other fuel-sipping rides appeal to more than just the granola and Birkenstock crowd, with, for example, the Fisker Karma hybrid sportscar on display (a favourite of Justin Bieber) and a couple of Lexus concepts—the LF-LC and LF-CC—that are as much about style and performance, as they are about green motoring.

The Big Three also put on a strong show, with GM revealing its new Spark electric minicar, Chrysler-Fiat its battery-powered Fiat 500e, and Ford showcasing a pile of energy-friendly options.

And of course Toyota, who was responsible for bringing hybrid tech into the mainstream, displayed the full model range of Prius vehicles. FYI—the Prius is now California’s top-selling vehicle.

With so many electrics, plug-ins, hybrids, clean diesels and tweaked gas-powered vehicles on hand in L.A., space doesn’t permit coverage of them all. So we’ll start with some of the show highlights from the domestic automakers—the imports will be covered in another story.

Chrysler/Fiat

OK, Fiat isn’t purely a domestic automaker, but for ease of reading, I’ll lump it with Chrysler as it’s the majority shareholder in this partnership.

One of the big reveals at the Fiat display was the 2013 500e, an electric version of the iconic microcar. On the exterior, there have been a few hard-to-spot alterations, which are just enough to improve aerodynamics by 13 per cent.

More importantly, it now has a battery-electric powertrain that produces 111 horsepower, recharges in less than 4 hours with its 240-volt Level 2 charger and provides approximately 80 miles of range—and up to 100 in the city.

Driving dynamics have also been considered, and should benefit from the new chassis and suspension designed for the EV powertrain.

On hand at the Dodge display was the company’s most fuel-efficient Dart—the Aero—which in Canada starts at $15,995. It is powered by the 1.4-litre MultiAir intercooled turbo engine combined with several aerodynamic enhancements: active grille shutters, lightweight aluminum chassis, underbody aero kit, a lowered profile and low-rolling resistance tires.

All this translates into a fuel economy rating of 8.1/5.4 litres/100 km.

Available with a six-speed manual, six-speed auto or six-speed dual dry clutch transmission, the Aero may not be as quick as the old Dart 340 Swinger, but it’s a heck of a lot better on gas.

Ford

Ford opened their presentation with a drifting demonstration by Ken Block of Gymkhana fame, shredding rubber and belching smoke from his 600-hp (665 lb/ft) Hybrid Function Hoon Vehicle—a highly modified Ford Fiesta that’ll not only light up the tires at will, but rocket from rest to 60 mph in 1.8 seconds.

Yet despite this high-testosterone opener, the Ford display was big-time about green motoring, featuring more such models than just about any manufacturer, other than perhaps Toyota.

One of these is the Fusion model range, which was named Green Car Journal’s 2013 Green Car of the Year at the show. This was due to its fuel-efficient choice of powerplants that include two EcoBoost engines, a hybrid and plug-in hybrid.

The EcoBoost options—a 1.6-litre turbo producing 178 hp and 184 lb/ft of torque and a 2.0-litre delivering 240 hp and 270 lb/ft are, from my experience, lively performers. And pretty fuel efficient too.

The Fusion Hybrid, which pairs a 2.0-litre Atkinson-cycle inline four with an electric motor and weight-saving lithium batteries, gets about 4 litres/100 km, while producing the equivalent of 188 hp. You can travel at speeds up to 76 km/h in all-electric mode.

The Fusion Energi—a plug-in hybrid that will go up to 20 miles on pure electricity—will be available here early next year.

Another star at the Ford booth was the Focus Electric. Looking in nearly every way like a regular gas-powered Focus, this five-passenger all-electric hatchback nets a fuel efficiency rating of 1.8L/100 km—(105 MPGe) from its 23-kWh lithium-ion battery and 107-kW electric motor.

The Focus powerplant not only delivers a robust  143 hp and 184 lb/ft of torque, but a range of up to 160 kilometres. Naturally, that depends on climate, road conditions, accessories use—and of course, your tendency to be a leadfoot.

Charging time is around four hours with the 240-volt quick charge unit, and approximately 20 hours with the regular 110-volt outlet.

Also worthy of note at the Ford booth was the roomy C-Max, that is available both as a hybrid and plug-in hybrid, using an efficient 2.0-litre gas engine as part of the powertrain.

General Motors

The Chevrolet Volt may be old news, but had a prominent position at the GM booth. And no wonder, of all electrics on the market, it is still the most practical with its range-extended powertrain. With a 1.4-litre gas engine working alongside its battery-electric motor, it should, in theory, never leave you stranded.

But GM, like so many other manufacturers, is moving into the all-electric segment—and the Spark minicar is an ideal entry. As GM’s smallest car, it delivers a superb power-to-weight ratio, with the coaxial drive and electric motor delivering 130 hp and a whopping 400 lb/ft of torque. That’s enough to propel the Spark EV from rest to 100 km/h in less than eight seconds.

Charging is also quick with an SAE Combo DC Fast Charge enabling the Spark to reach 80 per cent capacity in 20 minutes. The 240-volt home unit will provide a full charge in about seven hours.

The Spark EV is expected to go on sale next summer.

Indeed the Los Angeles Auto Show had plenty to offer in terms of eco-friendly motoring, and the Detroit Three have shown that they’ve come a long way in a short time.

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