Fuel Cells And Tech Talk In L.A. And Tokyo

by , Dec 2, 2013, 8:00 AM
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A little over a week ago, an automotive version of  Thanksgivukkah took place: the Tokyo Auto Show, the Los Angeles Auto Show and the Guangzhou show happened at the same time, which is bad news for attendance numbers any way you cut it. 

There was a common theme, however: hydrogen fuel cell and other alternative powertrain vehicles. "Fuel cells were the big noise globally, split between Los Angeles and Toyota," says Jon Voelcker, editor of Green Car Reports. He notes that Honda and Toyota had a kind of trans-continental standoff with Toyota unveiling its FCV-R fuel cell vehicle in Tokyo and Honda its FCEV in L.A. Both plan production versions for 2015 calendar year. 

The auto show noise is not commensurate with the likely sales volume, notes Voelcker. "They are going to be very low numbers; if you look at Honda's FCX Clarity [hydrogen fuel cell car in the U.S. since 2008] they have 40 of them delivered out of total worldwide production."

But the automakers -- including Hyundai, which unveiled a fuel-cell version of the Tucson -- are predicting much higher volumes. Voelcker tells Marketing Daily they will collide with electrics and plug-in hybrids, which take time to charge but don't require an as-yet nonexistent fueling infrastructure. "Toyota said they think they will eventually sell thousands every year. But by 2020 there will be half a million to a million plug-in cars on the road globally.” He added that to fuel those fuel cell vehicles (presumably) on U.S. roads there will need to be at least 15,000 optimally sited hydrogen stations nationwide.

As far as electrics and other powertrains and technologies that got the spotlight in L.A., Kia showed its first-ever electric car --  the Soul EV, coming to the U.S. next year. Volkswagen unveiled the e-Golf plug-in electric variant of the 2015 Golf that comes to the U.S. next spring. The company, which said the car is the first Volkswagen plug-in car designed for mass production, also showed a plug-in hybrid crossover called CrossBlue. Rudolf Krebs, Volkswagen's commissioner for electric drive systems, said that by next year there will be 14 models across Volkswagen Group brands with hybrid electric variants. 

Further afield, GM's Chevrolet brand -- among the 14 vehicles that are new to the show -- unveiled the 2015 Colorado midsize pickup, which gets a diesel engine for the first time.

Lincoln used a style event featuring actress Nia Long and a lineup of alt-rock bands to unveil a new crossover -- the MKC, based on the Ford Escape platform. The automaker is gunning for fuel efficiency with active grill shutters to cut wind resistance and an EcoBoost four-cylinder engine that initially will be exclusive to the brand.

Honda showcased a new "Lane Watch" technology, which uses a camera integrated into its side view mirrors to put paid to the horrors of blind lane changes and chiropractic bills due to neck torsion.  

The keystone on the overarching tech focus in L.A. was the show's first-ever Connected Car Expo one-day conference and three-day industry-only program with Ford's EVP of global marketing Jim Farley and Google Maps business-vertical director Tarun Bhatnagar doing the keynote.

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