Electric Cars at the LA Auto Show Showcase the Future


Every year, along with reporters and editors from Car & Driver, Motortrend and other specialty car geeks, I go to the Los Angeles Auto Show and ogle the future of cars.

It’s a beauty contest of machines with bright showroom lights bouncing off shiny bodies as they rotate before us on round platforms. Every single one has that intoxicating new car smell, plus this and that new feature for comfort and performance.

I love seeing them all, but I’m really there for the electric vehicles (EVs) since I devote a lot of my life to getting them on to the roads in greater numbers. We’re making solid progress, with over a quarter of a million driving on America’s roads today, but this is just the beginning.

To the extent an auto show can approach the futuristic vision on display at a World’s Fair, it’s largely due to the EVs, which represent the most important evolution in automotive technology since we ditched the steam engine.

The big news in the EVs we see this year, and one of the reasons for their growth in popularity, is they are the most efficient vehicles on the market and are only becoming more and more efficient.

Let’s take a look at the trends in EPA “Miles-per-gallon-equivalent (MPGe)” ratings for the eight best-selling plug-in vehicles (which comprise 90% of 2014 sales:

Both the LEAF and the Volt, the first and still best-selling modern EVs have made significant efficiency gains since their introduction in 2011. And the next generation Volt is expected to continue that promising trend. The orange dot in the upper right-hand corner, the 2014 BMW i3, is also worth calling out, as it represents the most efficient series production car ever, with an EPA-rated 124 MPGe.

The i3 showcases the gains that can result from German engineers taking advantage of the simplicity of an electric drive platform. In the 1990s, Amory Lovins and the Hypercar team at Rocky Mountain Institute built a prototype electric vehicle from carbon fiber panels. They called this “lightweighting.” (According to Lovins, only 0.3 percent of a standard car’s fuel energy actually ends up moving the driver.) In many ways, the i3 is a real world hypercar.


BMW i3 carbon fiber “Life Module” in production

Its carbon fiber panels are stronger than steel, but weigh half as much. This not only makes the car weigh less, requiring less energy to move it, but also allows a smaller motor and battery and lighter suspension. BMW really took the fat out, using natural materials and re-processed scrap from the manufacturing process (pre-cycling?) where possible and eliminated other energy and water intensive manufacturing processes.

For example, it has no paint; the color pigment is in the body panels. True, paint may not weigh much, but eliminating paint eliminates the paint shop, reducing water and energy consumption by 70 percent. BMW is also powering its production facilities with carbon-free energy, further reducing life-cycle emissions.

The LA auto show is all about the future, and if this is the trend, the future is efficiency.  EVs are here to stay and are not just prototype hypercars, but mass produced and affordable cars.  As you can see as you walk the halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center, the future is here and now.