LA Auto Show Preview

California being what it is, the Los Angeles Auto Show, although relatively small, usually serves up cars of glamorous, quirky, and environmental pretensions in equal measure. 

This year will see a production version of BMW's i8 roadster concept unveiled, as well as the American launch of Ford's tiny three-cylinder Ecoboost engine (which we recently tested in the new B-Max), and possibly a third iteration of the BMW i family - the i3 Concept Coupe.

There are a few of debut cars, however, that could really make a difference. Small, accessible and already popular in their own right (Fiat recently built its one-millionth new 500), these are the sort of cars the industry needs.

Fiat 500e

It’s a shame that Fiat’s electric 500 will only go on sale in California, because if any car could break the boring, charmless stigma attached to electric cars in general, it’s this one. The battery-electric drivetrain generates 11kW and will recharge in less than four hours. Estimated range is urban-centric at 80 miles.

There's good reason to believe that the primary reason for Fiat bringing an electric 500 to market is to conform with California's Zero Emissions Vehicles program, which targets makers who are selling on a large scale. Fiat could even be losing as much as $10,000 on each car when they go on sale in 2013. Aesthetically, the matt orange is shocking enough, but maybe we'd dump the white bumper.

Is a strong dose of classic Italian style what the EV market needs?

Chevrolet Spark EV

Like the 500e, a plug-in iteration of Chevy's popular Spark could further the 'green' cause in the US a considerable amount. And also like the 500e, we know some technical details about the Spark; chiefly that it will generate the equivalent of 130bhp, which should make it really quite rapid. What we don't know is the range, although using a 240V outlet, the Spark will recharge in less that seven hours. 

Chevrolet offer a battery warranty of 100,000 miles and claim that it has undergone over 200,000 hours of testing. Not as pretty as the Fiat, but faster and, at under $25,000, proabably cheaper, too.

Mercedes Ener-G-Force Concept

The space-buggy-esque Ener-G-Force is Mercedes' entry for this year's LA Design Challenge, but it also doubles up as a preview for future G-Class models. Noticeably G-Class inspired, the concept features large muscular panels and a very small DLO, which emphasizes the protective nature of the car.

Technologically, Mercedes bill the concept as an environmentally friendly SUV, with a theoretical range of 500 miles provided from water collected in the roof-rack that then provides hydrogen for the fuel cells. Far-fetched, but this is a concept after all.

VW Jetta Hybrid

Volkswagen's Jetta has historically been a cool car, but now it looks great, too, and it will be available as a hybrid next year. A 150PS 1.4-litre petrol engine has been mated with a 20kW electric motor, generating a combined 170PS. So, the Jetta won't be slow, and economy should be around 54mpg. Nothing to write home about, but the Jetta seems to be a good package and might trouble Toyota's Prius.

Jeremy Scott smart fortwo electric drive

We said that the LA Motor Show can be quirky and this is exactly what we meant. In what smart describe as an 'electrifying' encounter, fashion designer Jeremy Scott has been let loose on a Fortwo electric drive (an already excellent little EV). 

On the pretense that wings are the symbol for carefree driving fun, the wings attached to the car's C-pillars light up like 'igniting rockets' forming the most avant-garde of tail lights. Wings are very much Scott's trademark and, along with designers from smart's Design Division in Carlsbad, they've been applied to the 'car' in an, er, intersting way. Like we said, quirky.

BMW i3 Concept Coupe

A development of the 'standard' i3 hatchback due to go on sale next year, the Concept Coupe is more about visual impact - emphasizing the driving pleasure the car can offer along with swathes of black carbon fibre and a contrasting 'Solar Orange' colour scheme. The silhouette is influenced by a steeply raked windscreen and framless doors that give the Concept Coupe a dynamism that the original car lacks.

BMW claim that range is around 100 miles, although three driving modes are availalbe - the most economical of which can extend the range by 20%. Top speed is unashamedly slow, at 56mph, although with a route-planning feature design specifically for the requirements of urban centres, the driver should be able to make efficient use of both the i3's top speed and range with ease.

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