It was really difficult to pick the 5 most exciting green cars from this years auto show, primarily because I didn't know whether to focus on the concepts or those cars already on showroom floors or in the pipeline for the near future. That said, I think you will find my choice a mix of these two categories, because as important as it is to have green options right now, there's no denying that the future is looking even brighter.
Here are my top from, from least to most exciting:
5. Nissan Cube
It may seem strange to put the Nissan Cube on a list like this because it will only get a shade above 30 mpg for it's EPA rating, but I think the Cube represents a new kind of car for the U.S. Sure, Scion has had the xB for several years and has already reached quite a few buyers, but it's still new to see such an untraditional car coming from a major brand in the U.S. I have seen these cars in Japan, and along with the Kei-class of cars, they represent a dramatically different way to look at personal transportation.
The Cube seats 5 and has a relatively small foot print and high gas mileage, but it's boxy shape eschews traditional styling for maximum utility. You may not like how it looks, but there's no denying that the car can hold a lot and it takes a lot of the energy out of the old "I bought an SUV so I could haul my sports equipment" argument. The Cube has incredible utility and I hope the concept of efficient use of space catches hold in the U.S. market.
4. Honda FC Sport
The FC Sport is just a design concept, but that doesn't mean we should be any less excited about it. Honda is well-known for creating the first certified hydrogen fuel cell car, and is continuing that tradition of innovation by trying to show consumers that not only is hydrogen eco-cool, but it can be just plain cool.
By highlighting the world premiere of this concept at the LA Auto Show, Honda stuck their necks out there to show there is still a future in green technology even with the turmoil in the auto industry. Above that, they are showing that design can be radically altered when new power plants are employed in the automotive industry. Clearly, cars like the FCX Clarity are designed for maximum consumer acceptance and that's how it can be repurposed so easily as the basis for the new Insight Concept. This, however, does not mean that the structure of fuel cell technology cannot be made to house an attractive, futuristic, and aerodynamic design, as embodied by the FC Sport.
3. Mitsubishi i MiEV
While the i MiEV will not be for sale in the United States for a least a few years, it will be on sale in Japan next summer for ~$40k (4 million yen) and represents the first electric from a major manufacturer to hit the streets in quantity.
However, the real highlight of the i MiEV from the auto show was my personal test drive. A lot of stigma surrounds electric vehicles in this country, and that's probably because no one has had the ability to actually drive one yet. But I can no say, first hand, that if electric cars represent the future of transportation in the United States, that future will not be slow, sluggish, or sloppy. The i MiEV accelerates better than the average economy car and has great handling, while at the same time being incredibly roomy and not feeling as cheap as many other small cars would.
2. MINI E
Though I missed my chance to test drive the MINI E during its world premiere at the LA Auto Show, there is no shortness of excitement over the car that will be soon leased to hundreds of people in both California and New York. The BMW Group is very serious about this car and the future of electric vehicles, and has attacked the problem by creating are car that is first off fun and exciting to drive, and secondly efficient and environmentally friendly.
Smart is currently working on their own electric offering, but the MINI E is the first serious electric to come out of the European market, and it's exciting that it will be sold in the United States rather than restricted solely to the European markets.
1. Honda Insight Concept
I picked the Honda Insight Concept as the most exciting green car from the LA Auto Show because it will be available in quantity in the U.S. market starting in the Spring of 2009. I'm incredibly excited about the possibility of seeing a car on showroom floors that not only gets close to 50 mpg, but will start at just $18,500.
In these tough economic times, we see that auto market really taking a heavy hit, and that includes hybrid cars, even with their popularity on the rise. This is primarily because hybrids are expensive. Even if your investment will be paid back over the life of the car in fuel savings, it's increasingly hard to put over $20k up front for a car that you are unsure how long you will keep it for. The new Insight will break that price barrier and open the car and hybrid technology to a new market of families, first time buyers, and generally thrifty individuals.
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