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LA Auto Show Summary + Today's Public Conversion
Nov 15, 2007 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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CalCars' Felix Kramer, Ron Gremban and Randy Reisinger have been at the the LA Auto Show, an increasingly important event for the industry. (Last year, it's where GM announced the Saturn Vue PHEV and hinted at the Volt.) We had a chance to meet some of the Volt team and hear their progress, and attend the media preview events. We hope to have more to say about that in a few days.

LA EVENT: Today we will be providing the technical services to enable a mid-day public conversion of a Prius right in front of the Auto Show, in a Freedom From Oil event organized by Rainforest Action Network and Global Exchange, co-sponsored by Plug In America and CalCars. Working with Plug-In Conversions of Poway, CA that supplies the Nilar nickel-metal hydride batteries and Plug-In Supply of Petaluma that built the battery box, we hope the messsage will be that while most carmakers say PHEVs are a long way off, they, like us, could start getting PHEVs on the road much sooner, with today's batteries of all chemistries, using line extensions of today's vehicles. See the press release at­media_center/­news_article/­?uid=2439 and the news report at the end of this posting.

Here's a roundup of other developments:

FORD: CEO Alan Mulally was the keynote speaker at the Motor Press Guild (MPG!) opening event. In addition to steps to improve business efficiency, he emphasized goals of improved fuel economy and lower emissions. The "cornerstone" is TGDI: smaller-displacement turbo-charged direct injection engines that can save 20% of fuel. With Mulally coming from Boeing, a focus on lightweighting of cars and improved aerodynamics is not surprising. PHEVs featured a little more in his speech thn in his "Blueprint for Sustainabililty." He mentioned the plan to work with Southern California Edison, emphasizing that it would be research to develop a broad "systems solution" that includes use of off-peak electricity. He said that this approach had "a real chance of making a substantial improvement on a system-wide basis to sustainability." And he said that batteries were a key "enabling technology" that had to be improved. ("Enablers" seemed to be the buzzword of the Auto Show.)

VOLLKSWAGEN: VW showed its "Space Up! Blue" van that echoes the company's vans of other generations. It's a boxy, highly-styled 65-mile range series PHEV with a photovoltaic roof that contributes a symbolic amount of power and a high-temperature hydrogen fuel cell range extender. rUlrich Hackenberg, Head of Technical Development, made no commitment to production of anything except a diesel version of the vehicle.

VOLVO: The Ford subsidiary showed its Recharge flex-fuel series 60-mile PHEV. First shown in Frankfurt, it's based on the Volvo C30. Science Officer Ichiro Sugioka seems optimistic that the lightweight motors from British company PML Flightlink will solve the "unsprung mass" problems traditionally associated with in-wheel electric motors.

GM: Bob Lutz explained the company's intention to make Chevy the "world fuel economy leader" and said that powering cars with electricity was "nothing less than a big a shift as the transition from horse and buggy to gasoline cars."

TOYOTA: The company's focus was on its large trucks and its fuel-cell vehicle that travelled across Canada accompanied by two large hydrogen tanker trucks. As you can see in the AP stsory below, the company is increasingly becoming the target of environmental criticism -- here's how the Wall Street Journal's Mike Spector described it, not specifically for Toyota: The delicate minuet of marketing and lobbying shows how car makers are bowing toward pressure for earth-friendly, fuel-efficient autos while at the same time tiptoeing around the fact that fuel-thirsty trucks and sport-utility vehicles are big sellers.­article/­SB119500527081792239.html?mod=todays_us_marketplace

HONDA: Continued its focus on fuel cell development, announcing the public availability of fuel cell cars for lease in Southern California for $600/month for three years. Among its first three customers is Terry Tamminen, former California EPA Secretary, who continues to promote hydrogen globally.

More news to come...

Toyota faces questions about quality, environment at Los Angeles Auto Show
The Associated Press
Published: November 14, 2007­articles/­ap/­2007/­11/­14/­business/­NA-FIN-US-Auto-Show-Toyota.php

LOS ANGELES: Toyota Motor Corp. is usually the darling of the Los Angeles Auto Show, but testy relations with environmentalists and questions about quality are making the show a headache for the automaker this year.

It does not help that Toyota chose to introduce a full-size sport utility vehicle at the show, and the redesigned Sequoia does not have a hybrid option like full-size SUVs from General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC that are debuting across the show floor. The Los Angeles show opens to the public Friday after two days of media previews.

After the Sequoia was introduced Wednesday, an environmental activist with a video camera approached Toyota's general manager for U.S. sales, Bob Carter, and asked why the company will not withdraw from a lawsuit against California, which has sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to establish tougher fuel economy rules.

Carter refused to answer and knocked the camera out of Brent Olson's hands. Olson, of San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network, was eventually led away by two policemen.

A handful of protesters also picketed Toyota outside the show and planned further protests Thursday.

After the spat, Carter said Toyota and environmentalists have more in common than not, and that Toyota supports tougher fuel economy standards but does not want them decided at the state level.

"We believe it's best applied at the federal level," he said. "We're a full-line manufacturer and we want to meet consumer needs."

He added that despite the rise in fuel prices, many U.S. buyers simply need the utility and space of a full-size SUV.

The Sequoia has a new 5.7-liter, V8 engine that is more powerful at 381 horsepower and more fuel efficient than the old engine. It also has improved aerodynamics to save fuel, and the company plans to introduce an ethanol-capable version in the fall of 2008. Pricing was not announced for the new Sequoia, which goes on sale in December.

Fuel economy numbers have not been released, but Carter said they will improve by about 12 percent over the old model, or 2 to 3 miles per gallon. The current Sequoia gets around 15 miles per gallon in the city, compared to 21 miles per gallon for the new hybrids from Chrysler and GM, including the Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen SUVs, the Chevrolet Tahoe SUV and Chevrolet Silverado pickup.

Carter said Toyota plans to offer hybrid versions of every vehicle in its lineup and is also studying combinations such as hybrid diesels. But it hasn't managed to develop a system that works well in large trucks like GM and Chrysler did in their consortium with Daimler and BMW.

"We're not there yet. There's no technology to meet all our customers' needs," he said.

Toyota's sterling reputation has taken a beating in recent months because of quality problems and environmentalists' anger. Toyota also was stung this fall by the departures of some key executives, including its North American chief, Jim Press, who left to become vice chairman of Chrysler LLC, and its U.S. manager of Lexus, Jim Farley, who went to Ford Motor Co.

Last month, Consumer Reports said Toyota "is showing cracks in its armor" and will no longer get automatic recommendations from the magazine when it releases new or redesigned vehicles. It also removed several Toyota vehicles from its recommended list because of quality issues.

Toyota recalled 766,000 vehicles in the United States last year, down from 2.2 million in 2005 but still up significantly from the 210,000 vehicles it recalled in 2003.

Also last month, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups sent thousands of e-mails and faxes to Toyota urging it to support a Senate energy bill that would set a 35-mile-per-gallon average fuel economy standard by 2020. Toyota backs a more modest approach on so-called CAFE standards that would require 32 to 35 mpg by 2022.

The company's most recent embarrassment came earlier this week, when it pulled an ad that called Fresno a "low-budget tourist stop" after U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein wrote to complain. The inland California city has the reputation of being a high-crime and boring particularly in comparison to other cities in the state.

Still, Toyota has a lot in its favor. Toyota still has 17 of the 39 most reliable vehicles on Consumer Reports' influential list, far more than any other automaker.

Toyota last week reported a hefty $4 billion (2.72 billion) profit in its fiscal second quarter, the same day that GM reported a record $39 billion (26.53 billion) quarterly loss because of accounting changes. Toyota also is hot on the heels of GM to become the world's largest carmaker. Toyota sold 7.05 million vehicles in the first nine months of this year, just 10,000 less than GM.

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