Thursday, November 20, 2008

News From the L.A. Auto Show - Part 4

This is the next post in a 5-part article regarding the Los Angeles Auto Show. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

The Volkswagen 2009 Jetta TDI was given the award at the auto show as Green Car Journal's 2009 Green Car of the Year. The Jetta TDI uses "clean diesel" technology and requires Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel fuel -- ultra-low sulfur diesel is required in all 2007 and later diesel fuel vehicles and can be used in all diesel vehicles. Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, and Audi all formed a cooperative to push clean diesel technology. While Mercedes uses its Blue-Tec technology that sprays a chemical on the harmful diesel emissions to turn them into nitrogen and water, the Jetta TDI has a NOx-storage catalyst (NOx = nitrogen oxide which is a harmful particulate) that holds the NOx emissions until the car can burn it off. The base list price is $21,990 with MPG 29/41 from the EPA (independent MPG turns out 38/44) -- I like this base price with the higher MPG, but this price is not much different than a base price for a Prius. And a Los Angeles Times article recently reviewed the new Jetta TDI and compared it to the Prius. You'd save yourself $420.00 in fuel per year if you went with the Prius.

Honda has available the 2009 Civic Hybrid Sedan ($23,550, MPG 40/45) which is serious $1,500 more expensive than the Prius but with similar MPG. Traditionally Honda's base vehicles have nearly everything you need standard, so if you are considering a hybrid make sure you check what you get for the base price and compare the two. The Civic Hybrid has an AT-PZEV ultra-low emissions rating, is a gasoline/electric hybrid, lots of safety features, 3-year/36,000 mile basic warranty (8-10 year warranty on battery pack), and NiMH battery. U.S. News' 2009 review lists some complaints, primarily weak in-town driving -- so, word to the wise -- test drive both a Prius and Civic Hybrid a few times before you decide between the two.

Also available is the 2009 Civic GX which runs on natural gas and the 2008 FCX Clarity which is a fuel cell vehicle running on hydrogen. Although the GX is available now for $25,090, there are refueling barriers and the MPG isn't all that impressive (24/36). What has had me really excited for the past year, though, is the FCX Clarity. The Clarity has significant barriers to overcome when it comes to refueling, but I believe hydrogen fuel cells are the best future alternative fuel option. The Clarity has zero emissions, doesn't require any reliance on fuel imports, and has an amazing MPG of 77/67. The car actually expels clean water (that's the technical emission) but no emissions in the current sense.

In the research I've done, hydrogen refueling stations have the best chance actually happening if the car companies who are making fuel-cell concept vehicles band together and push infrastructure development in major cities, expanding from there to all across the U.S. -- almost like a fiber optic expansion. If you write your congressional representative and ask for much higher MPG requirements (above 50 MPG) and federal incentives for hydrogen refueling stations, this infrastructure development and the cars to demand it will happen sooner.

As far as alternative fuel vehicles for Kia, the company only has a concept fuel-cell car in development but no hybrids in its showroom. This is disparaging news for this company. When I asked a sales person about what are Kia's plans for the fuel-cell car, such as a refueling plan, he lamely answered that the car was just technological exploration with no refueling ideas whatsoever. While this was just a sales guy who generally knows very little about business-building strategies, I was so put off by this lack of PR preparation that I immediately left the Kia area. Ugh.

Part 5 -- FINAL POST IN THE SERIES...

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