Turning the Electric Corner at the LA Auto Show

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Nov 20, 2015

LOS ANGELES—This was the Los Angeles Auto Show where it became plain that we’ve reached a turning point in big automaker electrification. Audi of America President Scott Keogh said without equivocation that 25 percent of Audi’s sales by 2025 will be electric or plug-in hybrid.

Audi's battery Q6 e-tron concept is heading to the market--backed by a fast-charging network and robust dealer education--in 2018. (Jim Motavalli photo) And the backup for statements like that were clearly on the company’s stand, with both the imminent Audi A3 Sportback e-tron plug-in hybrid (expect it at dealers in 60 days) and the e-tron concept (a battery Q6 with a 95-kilowatt-hour battery and 300-mile range). The company also plans to put out a small number of the on-again, off-again R8 e-tron supercars, and a second high-volume battery electric. New electric powertrain head Siegfried Pint says that second car is going to be based on Audi’s own architecture, not a badge-engineered Porsche Mission E or VW e-Golf.
Audi isn’t just putting out cars, Keogh said; it plans to back them up with a determined dealer education campaign (complete with training materials on iPads) and a 150-kilowatt fast-charging network with an as-yet-unidentified partner. That’s planned to be in place by 2018, when the Q6 (and Porsche’s Mission E, not highlighted in Los Angeles) come online. Not to be outdone, VW itself showed the 400-horsepower, carbon fiber-bodied GTE plug-in hybrid (zero to  60 in four seconds, 174 mph), though the majority of its stage time was given over to U.S. CEO Michael Horn addressing the diesel scandal.  

 VW's GTE plug-in hybrid was on the company's stand, but the diesel problem was the press conference focus. (Jim Motavalli photo)“A large movement is taking place,” said Aaron Cohen, an EV strategist at Audi. “People are increasingly willing to consider buying an electric car—we see it going up to two thirds of the population.” Cohen thinks Americans need time behind the wheel of test cars (backed by robust charging networks) to make the leap. EVs tend to be good convincers and myth busters, since they’re both quiet and quick off the line.
Audi, which doesn’t seem to have been much affected by the VW Group diesel scandal, expects to sell 200,000 cars in the U.S. this year—a record.

 BMW's i8 is the company's electric flagship. (Jim Motavalli photo)Over at BMW’s stand, the company had the 330e and X5 xDrive40e, both plug-in hybrids, and according to electrification leader Rich Steinberg will eventually have electrified versions of all its model lines. A plug-in 7-Series will arrive next year.
BMW is expanding its fast-charging alliance with EVgo from three U.S. markets to 25, said BMW North America head of EV intrastructure Robert Healey. The new agreement should result in the installation of hundreds of 50-kilowatt DC fast chargers (capable of charging most EVs in 30 minutes) around the country—a total of 1,000 stations.  

 Announcing the ROEV charging network--one card will give access to three companies' chargers. (Jim Motavalli photo)BMW, Nissan and Audi are also part of a pioneering new organization called ROEV, also announced at the LA show. Charging partners are Chargepoint, Car Charging/Blink and NRG EVgo. The alliance is designed to make EV charging easier by letting members signed up to any of the participating companies also use their cards at the others’ stations. Tesla has been invited to join, but it appears to be sticking to its own Supercharger network.     
ROEV compares its plan to a bank card that’s usable at other companies’ ATMs. In response to a question, they said they hope nobody gets charged roaming fees, but that’s not settled yet. ATMs charge fees, don’t they?

 The 2016 was the Green Car of the Year, and I got to make a quick victory lap. (Jim Motavalli photo) The all-new 2016 Chevy Volt was designated the Green Car of the Year in Los Angeles, to nobody’s great surprise. I finally got a chance to drive the thing in a one-mile loop around the convention center. That wasn’t a real road test, but I can certainly confirm it’s very comfortable, well laid out and almost preternaturally quiet.

 Volvo is anticipating the self-driving car interior with Concept 26. (Jim Motavalli photo)Volvo has a new plug-in XC90, but in Los Angeles it talked about how that car can become autonomous. It showed Concept 26, a stand-along self-driving interior that has “Drive,” “Create” and “Relax” modes. Yes, you can recline and play with your phone.

 Believe it or not, this crazy Scion CH-R is headed for production next year. (Jim Motavalli photo)Kia’s Niro hybrid, revealed in Frankfurt, was under wraps in Los Angeles. Scion didn’t show anything green, but it did offer the outrageous-looking C-HR concept, which had more angles than a Richard Nixon speech. It’s not just a concept car; a production version is coming next year.

 The Elio now has its engine installed--but it's not out of the woods yet. (Jim Motavalli photo)There were lots and lots of SUVs and CUVs debuted in Los Angeles. They’re ruling the world today, but the age of the electrics is coming faster than you think. Here's a closer look, on video, at the work-in-progress known as the Elio:


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