My impressions of the L.A. Auto Show so far? It's very loud! But when I can unplug my ears, I'm seeing some fantastic advancements. It seems that the big story this year is going to be fuel cell vehicles, particularly the race to get them on the road in areas where there are already fueling stations (D.C., L.A., and New York.)
Honda has just released its FCX Clarity, the next generation of its fuel cell vehicles. It's smaller, sleeker, and looks very much like a Prius. It is fully certified to run on America's roads, gets 270 miles on a full tank of hydrogen, and they're guaranteeing that they will be leasing them in 2008! Of course, they're not saying how many they'll be selling...and it's likely going to be very few.
GM, on the other hand, has put their fuel cell platform into the body of a Chevy Equinox SUV, arguing that people want fuel cells without radical design changes (and plenty of space for four kids and a dog). The hydrogen Equinox only gets 180 miles to a tank of hydrogen (mostly because the tank is smaller). Instead of selling its first round like Honda (at a tremendous loss, and at $600 a month) GM is planing on distributing 100 of the vehicles for free.
Instead of calling it a consumer program like Honda, GM is calling it market research. Really, they're both the same thing. My personal opinion of the cars is that the FCX is more awesome, with better range and styling, while the Equinox Fuel Cell has a better chance of coming in at a manageable price in the next five years.
Of course, none of this matters without a hydrogen distribution system or a reliable (low-carbon) method of producing hydrogen. But even if these cars do use hydrogen created from fossil fuels, fuel cell engines are so much more efficient that they will still be rated at close to 100 miles per gallon of fossil fuel.
It's an exciting time, and I love to see the competition between Honda and GM. I doubt one will ever blow the other out of the water, but the fight will certainly good for us, the consumers...not to mention the Earth. Now if they can just get some hydrogen pumps in the country...the fight would actually matter!
EcoGeek's coverage of the LA Auto Show was underwritten by the General Motors Company, which, we agree, is very strange since we say some fairly mean things about them with some regularity. The only condition of their assistance (travel and lodging) is that I disclose it, which, of course, I would have done anyway.
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