LA Auto Show 2010

The Los Angeles auto show is now arguably the USA’s most eco-focused mainstream car exhibition. With little public transport and a deep car culture, the spread-out city is heavily reliant on the automobile as a way of life. However, the wider California State also leads in terms of tough emissions regulations and boasts more than a fifth of the US hybrid market.

The 2010 LA auto show saw dozens of global vehicle unveils pushing a variety of more environmentally aware themes from electric and hybrid powertrains ready or very close to production to smaller and lighter vehicles like the unveil of the US-spec Fiat 500 heralding the return of the Italian brand to the North American market after an absence of 27 years.

Even the higher performance sports car brands pushed their (relative) environmental credentials with Mercedes revealing that its large four-door coupe V8 CLS AMG is 34% more fuel-efficient than the outgoing model and Porsche pushing a new sub-911-priced Cayman R with the news that it had shed 55kg. Read on for Green Car Design’s LA auto show highlights…

Concept: Cadillac Urban Luxury Concept (ULC)

Cadillac says A design study exploring a new type of vehicle that offers a luxury experience in a diminutive size.

Spec sheet : City car concept with an electrically assisted tiny 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine designed to appeal to urban dwellers with a desire for luxury but a lack of space.

‘Downsizing’ is not a word you would traditionally associate with ‘big car, big consumption brand’ Cadillac. But as General Motors’ advanced design director Frank Saucedo says of the ULC concept: “It may not look like Cadillacs on the road today, but it shares the comfortable and high-tech elements that owners have come to associate with larger, traditional luxury saloons.”

Although 115mm shorter than a Ford Fiesta on the outside, the cabin still allows for four luxury seats and a minimalist dashboard trimmed in understated but high quality materials like leather, carbon-colour wood inlays, aluminium accents and ceramics. Despite dramatic scissor doors – admittedly unlikely for any future production model – the overall concept is a serious proposal that parent company GM could well pursue if media and public feedback is positive.

Concept: Nissan Ellure

Nissan says : “An expression of our long-term vision for the next generation of great Nissan sedans… for the needs of its projected owners, women in their 30s and 40s with a sense of sophistication and rebellion” – Shiro Nakamura, senior VP and chief creative officer.

Spec sheet : Altima-sized sedan that previews a new flowing form language for Nissan sedans globally with a hybrid powertrain underneath and a bold interior concept.

Although a hybrid, this concept was not an overtly green-focused design. However there are plenty of aerodynamic and efficiency-related exterior details from the sheer surfaces on the front wheel arches and C-pillars that help cheat air to the partially sealed and newly angular front grille inspired by Kamishimo samurai coats (the ones that look like geometrically-shaped waistcoats with broad shoulders). The wheels also feature an unusual solution as Nissan’s North American studio chief Alfonso Albaisa told Green Car Design: “We played with a ‘solid, not solid’ feel to this design. They look like normal spoked wheels but actually have clear plastic panels in them to improve aerodynamics.”

Inside the concept’s wavy dashboard and cabin reflects the very fluid lines of the exterior with a curved rear sofa and red mood lighting to change the car from practical daytime sedan to a more social night time lounge. In terms of green materials the Ellure also boasts front seats covered with a black eco suede utilising 100% recycled post-industrial PET ultra microfibres.

Production: Range Rover Evoque 5dr

Range Rover says : Combines concept car design with extra versatility and family appeal with a bold exterior capturing the coupe design with the same compact footprint but a slightly higher roofline.

Spec sheet : More practical five-door version of the three-door model unveiled at the 2010 Paris motorshow that at its best will deliver a sub-135g/km CO2 Range Rover: an unheard of idea just a few years ago.

We’ve long got used to great-looking concept cars turning into ugly dogs by the time the production version comes around, but thankfully the transition from LRX concept to Evoque production car is not such an example. Indeed, even in five-door mode with a 30mm higher roof line to better accommodate rear passengers the Evoque looks simply stunning. Range Rover is a brand synonymous with 4x4 expertise and SUVs but the Evoque is its smallest five-door production vehicle ever. Also available in two-wheel drive to reduce energy consumption and emissions it nonetheless has all the modern features and trimmings global consumers demand of a high-end vehicle and represents another example of the small luxe auto trend, mirrored by Aston Martin and its Cygnet city car concept – now also confirmed for production.

Better still, the Evoque looks and feels luxurious inside with rear space psychologically and physically assisted by a large panoramic sunroof. Global sales success will surely follow the already growing critical acclaim. Expect deliveries to begin from summer 2011 across 160 countries, with prices starting from £30,000 or 35,000 euros.

Production: Fisker Karma

Fisker says : A concept that delivers the seemingly contradictory mix of a petrol-engined, practical, performance-oriented coupe with extraordinary economy and sub-100 g/km CO2 emissions

Spec sheet : The first production-ready petrol/electric plug-in hybrid luxury car from US hybrid-only start-up brand Fisker

If this car feels like it’s been around awhile that’s because it has – the four-seater coupe was first shown as a concept at the Detroit auto show in 2008 – but 2010 saw the first factory-built versions unveiled (with a global unveil at Paris and its North American debut in LA). Its plug-in hybrid powertrain features a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine used solely to power two electric motors to extend their range to 300-odd miles. Other eco features include what Fisker claims is “the world’s largest continuous solar panel roof on an automobile” powering not only air-conditioning within the car but also potentially capturing enough power to extend the car’s driving range.

Inside, Fisker also prides itself on having a much more sustainable material base including the use of so-called ‘Premium Eco Suede’, a post-industrial recycled virgin material – i.e. scraps of faux suede material that have never seen service in a car as part of the consumer cycle before, but rather, are industrial waste off-cuts that have been repurposed to avoid landfill. Another example of this eco sensitivity is in the use of old, reclaimed wood as Fisker’s PR continues: “Instead of artificially treating living trees harvested from Brazilian rain forests, as is the industry standard, Fisker searched its own back yard [and gave] new life to wood sourced from trees damaged during the 2007 California wildfires.”

This type of sustainability doesn’t come cheap – prices are expected to start at just under $90,000 from March 2011 – but owners will be guaranteed an ultra rare driving experience.

Production : Wheego LiFE EV

Wheego says : “If you want to drive an EV anywhere in the US and you don’t have $100k to spend on a Tesla, there’s us” – CEO Mike McQuary

Spec sheet : Smart-alike two-seater city car from China with full electric powertrain and safety modifications for the US for $21k after taxes.

Car brands you’ve never heard of lurking in the basements of auto shows often promise much but deliver little in the real world. Newbie electric car brand Wheego would beg to differ although technically we haven’t driven the car and can’t buy it – yet. But according to CEO Mike McQuary the car will be on sale by mid-December 2010 for $33k without US tax credits and circa $21k with. The car’s body comes courtesy of a model called ‘Noble’ by a Chinese manufacturer that translates to ‘Double Ring’ and that currently makes conventionally powered city cars and SUVs.

Good for 100 miles and 70mph the car’s shell has been strengthened with electric motors from Canada and batteries from the US added. Wheego plans to sell 2000 units in the model’s first full year on sale and use traditional dealers combined with a viral marketing approach. Asked why he thinks he can succeed where others have floundered, McQuary told Green Car Design: “My last company the Mindspring internet service provider was merged with Earthlink after becoming second only to AOL in the US through a very good product and excellent service. We’re bringing the tech model to the automotive world.”

In terms of design it’s only a revised Chinese design with a very plain interior, but in terms of package it could represent the US’s first low-cost full EV, bearing in mind the higher priced Nissan Leaf will only be sold in six states to begin with, and that the Tesla has a much higher sticker price.

Concept: LA Design Challenge

LA Design Challenge says : The theme this year addresses society's shift toward minimizing consumption of the earth's resources. The objective was to envision an efficient, lightweight, four-passenger vehicle not to exceed 1000 lbs (454kg) to be both comfortable and safe, while delivering satisfactory driving performance without sacrificing the styling consumers demand.

Spec sheet : The annual virtual design competition this year pitted the skills of nine advanced design teams from up and down the West Coast as well as for the first time Mercedes’ Japanese and German studios.

Always throwing up innovative and futuristic designs, the annual LA Design Challenge competition is now in its seventh year. However, as the competition remains virtual – bar some posters and scale models outside of the show’s main halls – its existence can sometimes be a little under the radar.

This year’s joint winners were the compressed air-powered GM Aera – also led by Frank Saucedo behind the Cadillac ULC concept already mentioned – and Smart’s 454 Weight Watch Technologies beach buggy concept that envisioned a knitted carbon fibre chassis, recycled plastic panels and a modular clip-on construction method.

The usual array of outboard-wheeled wonders graced this year’s contest but perhaps the most remarkable was the human-electric powered rickshaw Maybach concept, the DRS or Den-Riki-Sha.

The highly exclusive vehicle featured see-through panels that could create the effect of a gold lattice structure via electric current passed through them and suggested an onboard computer that ‘plugs’ into a future mega-city transport infrastructure that can be supplemented by human driver pedal power. As Maybach’s overall head of design Gorden Wagener, neatly puts it: “it’s a running Faberge egg”.