Thursday, November 20, 2008

News From the L.A. Auto Show - Part 3

This is the third posting in a 5-part article regarding the Los Angeles Auto Show. Read Part 1, Part 2.

I inadvertently bypassed the 2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid on the Los Angeles Convention Center floor, but looking it up online it is eerily the same color and has everything the Escape and Tribute have. I guess I didn't miss much. So, what's the deal?! Does Ford, which also has Mazda and Mercury as one of its brands, really need three hybrid SUV's that are all essentially the same thing, same engine, same color!, same design, same everything?! This is all part of the management and company choices that make one's head bobble -- seems like a big waste of money to me to keep all those brands going. Listen to me Ford, consolidate.

Anyway, let's move on. Toyota was next. Lots of press action in the Toyota area today. Toyota has a full line of 2009 hybrids that we are all familiar with -- the Prius, Camry Hybrid, Highlander Hybrid (SUV). I kept on wanting there to be something news breaking about this line, but it's just a solid line of hybrids. That's it. Simple. Functional. All have a basic 3 year/36,000 mile warranty.

For the 2009 Prius, the starting price is $22,000 and it gets an estimated 48 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway. Those are impressive numbers and make the Prius a fabulous option for a commuting and around-town car. The 2009 Prius is also considered a "second-generation" Prius with lower emissions and better fuel economy than the first generation line of Prius', as well as a re-engineered battery (smaller, better, NiMH). The second-generation remodel also classifies the Prius now as a mid-size vehicle, with it being slightly larger than before. And it has an AT-PZEV rating -- virtually no emissions.

The 2009 Camry Hybrid lists for $26,150 (MPG 33/34) -- when faced to choose between a Prius and this Camry, I think you'd be better off just going with a Prius. Though, I wish they would put the same Prius fuel economy in the Camry because I like the way the Camry looks, and the Camry is easier to see out the back window -- many women cannot see completely out the back window of the Prius because you have to be sitting up pretty high and be tall enough to see clearly out the back.

The 2009 Highlander Hybrid, an SUV, lists for $34,700 (MPG 27/25). This SUV is more expensive as a base price than the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid and gets less MPG. Reviews online give higher marks for the Escape Hybrid than Highlander Hybrid. I would seriously compare base prices and what you get between these two SUV's before buying.

Next, in the luxury arena was Mercedes-Benz. The company's main push is clean diesel through what they call Blue-Tec -- an engine technology that sprays a chemical onto the emissions before they reach the outside of the vehicle in order to convert them into nitrogen and water. I think there is some merit in this innovation, especially if algal fuel (a renewable biodiesel) enters the market and provides us with more sustainable diesel fuel. But personally, I prefer fuel cell technology as the best option on the long-term horizon.

Onto Chrysler. That part of the show was sad. Chrysler had its vehicles there but that's it. No extra lighting. And no people. It was the silent part of the show. Almost like everyone knows Chrysler is dead but no one wants to say it. I have not minded Chrysler's slow death so much because they have not had any alternative fuel vehicles coming out of the company, but, much to my surprise at the show, there were these interesting Chrysler EV hybrid-electric vehicles on display. However, I found out they are only concept vehicles with a possible rollout of 2010. I believe this is too little too late. And Chrysler probably won't last that long. Sorry Jeep lovers.

Nissan's small section was really odd. There was no overt emphasis on any hybrid or fuel efficiency technologies. No cars had any labeling or placard that would tell you info either. I have known about the Nissan Altima Hybrid, and the company does have a 2009 version ($26,650, MPG 35/33) which would be in competition with the Toyota Camry Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid, and Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid -- all family-size sedans. The Nissan Altima Hybrid has limited availability and carries only standard features for the base price.

Part 4...

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