I’ll be attending this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show to check out the latest and greatest in vehicle technology. While the flashy presentations of the automakers will certainly grab attention, here are four things that I’ll really be paying attention to:
Are there more electric vehicle (EV) options?
The future of transportation is electric drive, but we are a long way from replacing all gasoline and diesel cars with EVs (both plug-in and fuel cell EVs). One barrier in the way of transitioning to electric cars is the availability of EV models. In California, EV sales have been increasing over the last few years, with plug-in sales reaching 4.5 percent of all cars and trucks sold in the state this year. This is a great start, but we’ll have to go a lot further to meet our air quality and climate pollution reduction goals. To get to higher levels of EV sales, we’ll need to start seeing more EV models and a larger selection of sizes and styles available. So, I’ll be looking for what new options are coming, especially in the larger-size vehicle segments like SUVs.
Will automakers showcase the available technologies powering cleaner, more efficient cars?
While the future is electric, many of the cars sold over the next 5 to 10 years will have a combustion engine. Making those conventionally-powered cars and trucks as clean as possible will be important to reduce air pollution and climate-changing emissions. The good news is that the technology needed to meet clean car standards is available and starting to be used by many automakers. This means I’ll expect to see more efficient engines like smaller, turbocharged four- and six-cylinder engines replacing larger and thirstier naturally-aspirated engines.
Last year, Nissan showed off an innovative variable compression engine that promises both higher power and better efficiency, but hadn’t released a vehicle using it. Will this year see this engine go into production?
Many automakers are talking EVs. Who’s actually following through?
When I visited the show last year, I heard from automakers detailing plans to electrify their cars and saw a number of new EVs promised for 2017. But how much was talk and who actually followed through? Some companies did bring out successful EVs. A year ago, the Chevy Bolt EV was about to go on sale and just last month it became the sales leader for EVs. Toyota’s Prius Prime was also new to the market last November and is now a top-selling EV. On the other hand, cars like Hyundai’s Ioniq EV had an impressive press showing, but since then has been virtually nonexistent in the US market, with less than 400 sales this year to date.
In California, the division between EV market leaders and laggards is stark: For the first 9 months of 2017, 11 percent of BMW-branded vehicles were plug-ins and Chevrolet had over 14 percent plug-in sales! Over the same period, Honda had less than 0.3 percent electric drive sales, Hyundai sold just over 1 percent EVs, and Subaru sold more than 55,000 cars in the state without a single plug-in option available.
There were also several concept and prototype EVs at the show during the last couple of years. Will any of them show up this year as production models? Our research into the EV market last year showed that there a number of automakers that are lagging their peers in making EVs available, despite claims of progress. Our report shows that even though most companies now offer electric vehicles, many are not truly available (especially outside California). The first step in catching up is to start making EVs in volume and marketing them like they do their gasoline cars.
What models are emphasized by the manufacturers?
The LA Auto Show starts with a preview for media, with press conferences and displays of the automakers’ latest offerings. Then, after the press and auto industry executives are gone, the show opens to the public, becoming a showroom for virtually every car, truck, and SUV on the market in the US.
It’s interesting to see what models the manufacturers emphasize for each audience. For example, in 2015, Audi featured a prototype of a full-size all-electric SUV on its stage for the press days, but it was gone by the public days. Last year, Nissan didn’t even show its electric car, the LEAF on the press days. Other brands, like Chevrolet and BMW grouped their electric offerings and called attention to them for both the press and public days.
This inconsistent effort by some manufacturers at an auto show is indicative of the larger struggle playing out within the major automakers. On one hand, the car companies acknowledge that EVs are the future of transportation and will be needed to meet global emissions and EV standards being set by countries around the globe. However, they also have decades of expertise in designing and making gasoline-powered cars and trucks. This provides a powerful incentive to resist the inevitable switch from oil to electricity as the primary fuel for our personal vehicles. That’s why it’s important that we have regulations and incentives in place that both ensure that gasoline vehicles are as clean as possible while also pushing the automakers to move as quickly as possible away from combustion altogether.