Encouraging Signs for Electric Vehicles at the LA Auto Show

November 23, 2016 | 1:06 pm
David Reichmuth
Senior Engineer, Clean Transportation Program

I visited the LA Auto Show last week and was very impressed with the progress on electric vehicles (EVs) from just a year ago. Though there’s uncertainty where electric vehicle policy may head at the federal level, if we look just at progress in clean vehicles, especially those with electric drive, the trend is incredibly positive. Based on what I saw this week electric vehicles are poised to make a leap into the mainstream soon.

The Chevy Bolt is a long-range EV with a surprising amount of interior space.

The Chevy Bolt is a long-range EV with a surprising amount of interior space.

Signposts on the path to electrification

We know where we need to go with personal transportation: to reduce climate-changing emissions and petroleum use, we will need to electrify most personal vehicles in the coming decades. Mass-market EVs began to be available in late 2010, and now six years later, we have two important signposts that show we are on the path moving away from oil to electricity.

First off is the one of the stars of the auto show, the Chevy Bolt EV. The new battery electric car won not only ‘Green Car of the Year’ honors at the show, but also just received Motor Trend magazine’s overall ‘Car of the Year’ award. Why all of the buzz and accolades? One reason is that the car boasts 200+ miles of electric range, which was previously only available in the EVs from Tesla, combined with a sticker price just under $30,000 (after federal incentive). This combination of range and affordable price should open up all-electric driving to a much wider audience. Most drivers will be able use the Bolt for everyday driving with absolutely no concerns about running out of charge. Additionally, while cold weather reduces range, the Bolt should have plenty of range for drivers even in areas with harsh winters. However, given the reviews to-date, there are other reasons the car is generating praise: it’s a surprisingly roomy car with good performance and a quiet ride. The range is the topline feature that will get the most attention, but this car should also be noted for being simply a better car because it’s electric.

The Pacific is being advertised only as a 'hybrid', despite the fact it's actually a plug-in too.

The Pacific is being advertised only as a ‘hybrid’, despite the fact it’s actually a plug-in too.

The Chrysler Pacifica is the US's first plug-in electric minivan.

The Chrysler Pacifica is the US’s first plug-in electric minivan.

The second milestone EV I saw at the show wasn’t a car. It’s the new Chrysler Pacifica minivan. This minivan was being marketed as ‘only’ a hybrid at the show, but it’s actually a plug-in hybrid with about 30 miles of electric range (and >500 miles combined gasoline and electric range). The battery in the Pacifica is small enough to be fully charged overnight using a standard 110V outlet, but is big enough to make a significant dent in gasoline usage. However, the ‘biggest’ feature is its size and cargo space. The plug-in hybrid version has the same capacity as the standard gasoline version of the minivan. So families can now pick a much cleaner option for school carpools and soccer games, without giving up any of the utility of a conventional minivan.

Laggards catching up?

Another theme I saw at the LA Auto Show this year was some of the companies that have been laggards in the EV space starting to catch up. Earlier this year, UCS identified a number of automakers that were behind on EVs, including Fiat Chrysler America, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai/Kia. All of these, with the exception of Honda, had significant emphasis on electric drive at the show.

  • Fiat Chrysler had the aforementioned plug-in Pacifica placed prominently on display, as well as advertised heavily throughout the entrance to the showroom.
  • Hyundai also displayed their newest EV, the Ioniq, at the show which will come in both plug-in and fully-electric versions next year. The Korean automaker also devoted their entire press conference to electric cars, including the debut of a new all-inclusive leasing plan that promises to simplify EV ownership. Starting in California, the Ioniq Unlimited plan will also customers to lease an electric car for a fixed monthly price that includes all maintenance and charging costs.
  • Toyota also was showing multiple electric drive cars for the first time in several years. The hydrogen fuel cell Mirai was joined by the Prius Prime, a plug in version of the redesigned Prius. The Prius Prime has much more battery range and electric drive capability than the last generation Plug-in Prius and could help get Toyota out of the EV ‘laggard’ category.
The new Hyundai Ioniq will be available in standard hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and fully electric versions. Will this push Hyundai out of EV laggard status?

The new Hyundai Ioniq will be available in standard hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and fully electric versions. Will this push Hyundai out of EV laggard status?

Altogether, the 2016 LA Auto Show was very promising for the future of EVs in the US. Compared to last year, I saw much more interest in EVs from automakers and also more examples of EVs that were ready to go on sale (as opposed to concept cars and prototypes). Many companies, even ones that previously had lagged behind, are coming out with good cars that also happen to be EVs. These EVs can meet people’s transportation needs, while also overcoming some of the biggest obstacles to EVs, range and affordability. We are farther down the road towards creating a robust EV market, which will bring us closer to cutting oil use, cleaning our air, improving our health, and curbing global warming.

About the author

More from David

David Reichmuth's work focuses on analyzing new vehicle technologies and advocating for policies that support the increased electrification of transportation. Dr. Reichmuth has testified at hearings before the US House of Representatives, the California State Legislature, and the California Air Resources Board, and he is an expert on California’s Zero Emission Vehicles regulation.