Latest Buzz From the 2008 LA Auto Show

The consensus among automakers is that the fastest way out of the red is to go green. At the Los Angeles Auto Show, which opens to the public this week, being eco-fuzzy is more than a qualifier; it's an obsession.

I have to think back to a Chicago Auto Show several years back, specifically a Ford press conference in which Kermit the frog shared the stage with Magic Johnson. Kermie was promoting the Ford Escape Hybrid, while Magic was introducing a long wheelbase version of the Lincoln Navigator.

Maybe it was Magic's significant size advantage, or perhaps the zillions of autographed basketballs he tossed out of the Navigator's cargo area at the end of presentation, but the frog didn't have a chance. Kermit didn't get a second look.

How times have changed. At Ford's press conference today, vice-president of global marketing Jim Farley unveiled a hybrid version of the 2010 Fusion: one of a gaggle of hybrids that will make Ford the number one producer of hybrids in North America. Or so they hope.

The 2010 Fusion hybrid and Mercury Milan hybrid can go seven hundred city miles on a single tank of gas, and run up to 47 miles-per-hour on pure electric power. A lighter, more powerful battery gives the mid-sized hybrids 39 mile-per-gallon fuel economy in city driving.

Audi Mileage Marathon

Not to be outdone, Audi recently invited several hundred journalists to participate in a coast-to-coast drive in turbo-diesel versions of its A3, A4, A5 crossover vehicle, and Q7 sport-utility vehicle.

While hybrids excel primarily in city driving, diesels yield significantly better fuel economy in both city and highway driving. The A3 obtained fifty miles-per-gallon during the marathon, coming out on top. The new A5 crossover averaged just under forty miles-per-gallon, while the full-sized Q7 got 33 miles-per-gallon on the highway.

The new generation of clean diesel Audis begin arriving stateside in April of next year.

Green to the Power of Seven

BMW's new 7 Series flagship sedan will feature the second generation of iDrive, and an infrared camera that warns drivers of pedestrians in the vicinity at night. As with the four previous models, the new 7 Series is all about performance, with 400-horsepower V8 engine that delivers 450 lbs.-ft of torque

A 7 Series ActiveHybrid concept combines a turbocharged V8 gasoline engine with a twenty kilowatt electric drive for a fifteen percent increase in fuel economy. The electric motor is integrated into the transmission housing: it replaces the alternator as well as the starter. Regenerative braking provides the power to run an electrics on-board. Energy is stored in a lithium-ion battery located in the luggage compartment.

The Mini E electric car hits the streets of New York and Los Angeles at the end of the year. The car has a 156-mile range: its lithium ion battery recharges in about two hours.

The electric mini accelerates from zero-to-sixty in 8.5 seconds. Top speed is just under a hundred miles-per-hour.

To apply to be one of the first five hundred drivers behind the wheel of the Mini E, log onto www.miniusa.com.

Authentic Eco-sports Car

Honda is no newcomer to the green car movement. Today the automaker unveiled the new Insight concept. The production version rolls out in about five months.

The new Insight offers fuel efficiency on par with the Civic hybrid but costs a lot less. A new eco assist system monitors driver behavior, so the driver can improve his fuel efficiency by practicing eco-driving skills.

An Econ button remaps the car's on-board computer to improve its gas mileage, allowing to driver to chose between performance and economy models.

The FC Sport takes fuel cell cars to the next level, by adding a heavy dose of performance. The three-seat sports car positions the driver in the middle of the cockpit, similar to a Formula race car.

The car's slingshot design minimizes its coefficient of drag. Hexagonal shapes dominate the exterior: a reference to cellular structures in nature. Large scissor doors optimize ingress and egress for all passengers.

A glass panoramic roof brings ambient light inside and showcases the car's hydrogen storage tanks in back.

Designers at Honda's Pasadena studio developed the FC Sport Concept.

"The Honda FC Sport explores how to satisfy automotive performance enthusiasts in a world beyond petroleum," said Dan Bonawitz, vice president of American Honda Motor Co., Inc. "People who love sports cars will still have a reason to love in a hyrdogen-powered future.

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