Auto Show Rolls Out a Few Leaner, Cleaner Cars

LOS ANGELES, California, January 3, 2003 (ENS) - Auto show season opened Thursday in Los Angeles with the preview of cars at the Los Angeles Auto Show, and will continue next week in Detroit, giving the automakers brightly lit stages to display their latest models. Power, performance and styling are still front and center, yet some new models do offer environmental benefits.

The 2003 Ford Focus PZEV, a partial zero emissions vehicle, was introduced Thursday at the preview of vehicles at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The efficient engine meets California’s stringent partial zero emissions standard without requiring sacrifices of fun or economy on the part of its owners, Ford says.

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2003 Ford Focus PZEV at the Los Angeles Auto Show (Photo courtesy Ford)
“The new Focus PZEV is a technological breakthrough that delivers real world environmental benefits without a single compromise for its owners,” says Dave Szczupak, Ford Motor Company vice president, Powertrain Operations.

Specific emissions actions include close placement of the catalytic converters to the exhaust manifold to allow them to reach operating temperatures more quickly, and electrically controlled exhaust gas recirculation that recycles inert gas into the combustion chamber to reduce NOx emissions and improved fuel economy, although Ford does not specify the number of miles per gallon attained by the car.

The Focus PZEV is powered by a new 2.3 liter inline four cylinder engine generating 148 horsepower. This PZEV powertrain will become the standard engine powering all California, New York, Vermont and Massachusetts Focus models beginning later in the first quarter, Ford said.

The company plans to debut more environmentally friendly products shortly, such as a Ford Escape hybrid-electric vehicle scheduled to roll out later this year.

Dozens of Southern California hybrid car drivers joined actor Ed Begley Jr. and other celebrities today outside the Los Angeles Auto Show in urging automakers to adopt hybrid technology throughout their product lines.

"I drove cross-country and back last month in my hybrid car and spent only $150 in gas," said Begley, who helped organize the event at the LA Auto Show. "Hybrid cars not only look cool, but also help cool global warming."

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Actor Ed Begley, Jr. is a vegetarian, who practices recycling and composting, drives a hybrid car, and has made his home energy self-sufficient. (Photo courtesy Ed Begley)
Begley was at the show to introduce a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) that says America's cars and trucks can reach an average of 60 miles per gallon by the end of the next decade if automakers use the best available hybrid vehicle technologies and mass produce them fleet wide.

"The hybrid revolution is underway," said report author David Friedman, an engineer and senior analyst at UCS. "More than 50,000 Americans drive hybrid cars. But if hybrid vehicles are going to deliver their full promise, automakers must make wise choices as they apply both conventional and hybrid technology in their vehicles."

The new study is the first independent assessment of the cost and performance of hybrid vehicles for all five major car and truck classes. Friedman's team found all passenger vehicles can benefit from hybridization, but SUVs, pickups, and minivans show the greatest promise for improvement with the technology.

Hybrid cars and trucks look and drive like other vehicles on the road but incorporate some of the benefits of battery electric vehicles.

Honda is showing a new model of the Honda Civic Hybrid in Los Angeles. This five passenger sedan was the first established mainstream vehicle equipped with a gasoline-electric hybrid power system. It uses a small gasoline engine coupled with an electric motor to produce fuel economy of 50 mpg, the company says.

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Honda's 2003 Civic Hybrid (Photo courtesy Honda)
The UCS report characterizes the Honda Insight and the Civic Hybrid as "mild" hybrids because they use a downsized engine along with an electric motor. A regenerative braking system, which enables the electric drive motor to assist the brakes, saves otherwise wasted energy.

The Toyota Prius is defined as a "full" hybrid because it takes the additional step of using its electric motor and battery pack to drive the vehicle at low speeds with the conventional engine turned off, providing added fuel economy benefits.

While not a hybrid, the new model Toyota Camry introduced in Los Angeles is EPA certified as an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV).

"Automakers will waste money if they cut corners and slap weaker hybrid technology on today's average car or truck," said Friedman. "Ford's soon to be released full hybrid SUV is a good first example of how the technology can improve a truck, but they can go further by incorporating better conventional technology as well."

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Honda FCX fuel cell powered car (Photo courtesy Honda)
The Union of Concerned Scientists predicts in its report that fuel cell cars are still at least 10 years away, saying, "Automakers will ultimately build and mass produce hydrogen fuel cell cars, but these will not be ready to replace the internal combustion engine in most new cars and trucks for over a decade."

But field tests of fuel cell cars are moving ahead. The City of Los Angeles took delivery of a Honda FCX fuel cell car December 2 for placement in the vehicle pool, for normal, everyday use.

Honda plans to lease about 30 fuel cell cars in California and Japan during the next two to three years. The company currently has no plans, however, for mass market sales of fuel cell vehicles or sales to individuals.

The Los Angeles Auto Show opens Saturday and runs through January 12 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The North American International Auto Show in Detroit runs Saturday, January 11 through Sunday, January 19 at the Cobo Conference & Exhibition Center.