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L.A. Auto Show: Alternative-fuel vehicles in spotlight

Auto show notebook: Honda and Toyota unveil battery-powered models and Volkswagen shows off Heidi Klum.

November 18, 2010|By Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles Times
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

Rival Japanese automakers Toyota Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. unveiled prototypes of upcoming electric cars as alternative-fuel vehicles took center stage Wednesday at the start of the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Amid buzz about General Motors Co.'s multibillion-dollar initial public offering, major automakers scrambled to show off their latest electric car offerings to hundreds of reporters gathered for a preview of the annual event at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The show opens to the public on Friday.

In their global debuts, Honda showed off the concept for its Fit EV as well as the platform for a plug-in hybrid. Toyota previewed its second-generation battery-powered RAV4, while Jaguar teased show attendees with its sleek C-X75 hybrid-electric concept car – a vehicle that will likely never be commercially produced.

The five-passenger electric Fit, modeled after the existing hatchback, will be able to drive 100 miles on a single charge. Six hours connected to a Level 2 charger will bring the lithium ion battery up to full power, Honda said.

The electric motor will be based on the design from Honda's hydrogen fuel cell-powered FCX Clarity and have a top speed of 90 mph. Consumers will be able to drive in three modes: economy, normal and sport.

But the Fit has some stiff competition, said Michael Omatoso, an analyst with J.D. Power & Associates.

"It's similar to a lot of electric vehicles we've already seen," he said. "It's a crowded market. But Honda has a good chance, provided that they price the Fit below the Nissan Leaf and time the release right."

Not to be outdone, Toyota showed off its new, electric RAV4, which will be available next year. The automaker will pay $60 million for Tesla Motors to develop powertrain components for the vehicle.

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said separately that he would be disappointed if the RAV4 didn't have a range of 150 miles, which is significantly higher than the 100-mile range that Toyota has said it would get.

The vehicle is similar to the first-generation electric RAV4. Toyota produced limited numbers of the original between 1997 and 2003, with a battery that charged in five hours.

Several other clean-fuel cars also drew attention at the auto show. The plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt and Nissan's all-electric Leaf are both set to hit the market soon, while Mitsubishi showed off the North American version of its i electric vehicle, scheduled to reach California and the rest of the West Coast a year from now.

Other notable unveilings at the show included:

• Nissan's new Murano Cross Cabriolet, a convertible crossover that will start at $46,390 when it comes on the market next year.

• The Range Rover Evoque, a five-door, all-wheel-drive crossover that the British automaker said was the "most environmentally aware vehicle Land Rover has ever produced." It comes to market next fall with prices starting at $45,000.

• Volkswagen's new Eos convertible, which drew a lot of attention thanks to being introduced by supermodel Heidi Klum. Prices start at $32,900.

Times staff writers Susan Carpenter and Ralph Vartabedian contributed to this report.

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