LA Auto Show 2011: Green cars vs. brown cloud

Running through Nov. 27, the LA Auto Show features a wide array of green machines that aim to take some CO2 out of the city’s massive carbon footprint

The Honda Fit EV boasts a range of 123 miles.
The Honda Fit EV boasts a range of 123 miles.


The greater Los Angeles area is often considered less a city and more a mobile parking lot. With L.A.’s crushing automotive density, it’s fitting that the 2011 L.A. Auto Show - which runs through Nov. 27 - proved a showcase for a wide array of green machines that aim to take some carbon out of the city’s massive carbon footprint.

A particularly bright auto show spotlight was trained on a model with the rather pedestrian name of Honda Civic Natural Gas, which won the this year’s Green Car of the Year award from the editors of Green Car Journal (who have apparently never seen the documentary Gasland). The compressed natural gas (CNG) version of the company’s stalwart Civic bested the likes of Toyota Prius V and Ford Focus Electric, thanks in part to an engine with no smog-causing emissions and an eight-gallon fill-up price of around $12 (or less if you live in states where CNG is readily available). The car is rated at 38 mpg highway and 27 mpg city by the Environmental Protection Agency, a 10% boost over Honda’s last CNG effort.

Electric city concept Dok-Ing XD
Electric city concept Dok-Ing XD

On the wackier side of the green spectrum was an electric bubble of a car made by a Croatian company better known for its mine-clearing machines. The Dok-Ing XD looks like a Smart car that had a ménage à trois with a Lamborghini and a McLaren F1, with its seating for three (across) and scissor doors. The company apparently has plans to manufacture this potent concept car, with a range of electric-motors that would churn out either 120 or 240 horsepower, which given the car’s pint-sized nature is likely to make it frighteningly fast (and scary).

Among the other Earth-friendly cars making a debut in L.A. was BMW’s i Series (is Apple OK with this?), which made a Hollywood-style splash thanks to Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol star Paula Patton. Already introduced to European auto show visitors, the i3 Concept is the company’s urban rambler, featuring a compact four-seater body with suicide doors powered by 170-hp-equivalent electric motors. The i8 Concept is a beast of another stripe entirely, a plug-in hybrid sports car that’s clearly chasing Porsche’s equally dazzling 918 Spyder (which has the advantage of being in production at nearly $1 million a pop). BMW’s fighter jet-styled 2+2 can hit 62 miles per hour in under five seconds, and can travel up to 20 miles on electric power.

One prominent presence at the show was not a car but LA’s top pol, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who vowed that his city would become the green-car capital of the world. To that end, besides local heavy hitters Fisker (set to bow in 2012 with its four-door Karma) other players churning out cars in the City of Angels include China-based BYD and Coda Automotive. The latter unveiled its delayed $39,000 (excluding a $7,500 federal discount and another $2,500 for California residents) four-door sedan based on the Mitsubishi Lancer, which the company says is capable of hitting 85 mph thanks to its 134-hp electric powerplant. A six-hour charge gives the Coda sedan a 150-mile range. The company warranties its batteries for 10 years or 100,000 miles, and further guarantees they'll maintain at least 80 percent capacity after that much use.

Fans of Honda’s Fit will be glad to know the Japanese manufacturer has introduced an electric version of the car, but chagrined to hear that it will only be available in small numbers and for lease only at $399 a month. The four-door Fit EV hatchback is meant to seduce folks considering the Nissan Leaf or Ford Focus Electric, and boasts a range of 123 miles.

And while Chevy’s Volt isn’t news, its new Volt enhAT-PZEV is: this California-only special edition mouthful of a model (which stands for Enhanced, Advanced Technology - Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle) is an unabashed attempt to get the Volt into the state’s prized high-occupancy vehicle lanes, which the company’s original plug-in hybrid didn’t make the cut on. Sometimes green isn’t green enough.