Electric Vehicles Shine at the Washington Auto Show

Njuguna Kabugi | 2/3/2011, 12:42 a.m.

By any measure, the United States is one of the biggest and most prolific users of automobiles in the world. But with growing warnings that auto emissions are a major contributor to global warming and analysts predicting that $5.00 per gallon prices are 'just around the corner,' auto manufacturers are offering consumers what would have been considered out of reach just a decade ago-- reliable, pollution-free automobiles with every amenity and plenty of acceleration that greatly exceed today's fuel mileage.

Many of these futuristic vehicles are on display at the 2011 Washington Auto Show which opened to the public last weekend at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest and closes on Sun., Feb. 6. Known as the automotive industry's "public policy" show, it provides manufacturers a platform to showcase their offerings to policy makers in the nation's capital and many car enthusiasts in the D.C. metro region.

"Only The Washington Auto Show can bring together policy makers and industry innovators," said Charles Stringfellow, show chairman and CEO of Brown's Automotive.

On display are more than 700 vehicles from over 42 domestic and import manufacturers and a special 65,000-square foot exhibit display housing the latest innovations in safety and sustainability from clean diesel to electric vehicles.

While advanced internal combustion vehicles running on conventional gasoline fuels represent the majority of vehicles here, many other alternative drives--from electric, to hybrid to those based on alternative fuel technologies such as bio/synthetic and natural gas--are also on display. Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of the Green Car Journal, said significant focus is being directed toward engines designed to help meet increasingly tough emissions and fuel efficiency goals.
"It's a reflection of the tremendous effort now being made to develop and sell battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and conventional hybrids using electric drive," he said.

Most prominent electrics on display include the all-electric Nissan Leaf, named car of the year in Europe last year and the Chevy Volt, which was recently named North American "Car of the Year" at the Detroit Auto Show last month.

Unlike dedicated electrics, the Volt's battery lasts 35 miles, after which a gasoline engine kicks in. Ford's Focus BEV, based on the automaker's 2012 Focus model which will be introduced in the U.S. later in 2011, was awarded the Green Car Vision Award-- a recognition sponsored by Cogan's magazine.

The Focus BEV is powered by lithium-ion batteries and offers a projected 100 mile all-electric driving range. It can be charged in three to four hours with a 240 volt home charger.

Runners-up for the Green Car Vision Award included the Honda Fit EV and Mitsubishi i electric vehicle, a battery powered iteration of the automaker's minicar sold in Japan. Others included the Toyota RAV4 EV, a small SUV whose drive train was created in collaboration with Tesla (a California-based manufacturer of high-end electric sports cars) and the Volvo C30 DRIVe, an electric variant of the Swedish automaker's small sport hatchback that's powered by lithium-ion batteries from Indiana-based ENER1.

The sleek and stylish five-door hatchback Ford Focus Electric will share a platform with the regular gasoline models but offers close to a 100 miles-per-gallon equivalent. Photo courtesy of the Washington Auto Show