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First Coast Gears: Electrification will be a big theme at L.A. Auto Show

6:08 PM, Nov 23, 2012   |    comments
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Get ready for an onslaught of electric car news in the coming weeks as it will be one of the prime focuses at the Los Angeles Auto Show that opens to the public November 30.

Let's start with GM, which has already announced the 2014 Spark EV will be officially unveiled at the show. This pure electric will be capable of reaching an 80 percent battery charge in just 20 minutes with an optional high output charging system.

Lest you think the Spark is just another low volume item, consider this: GM asserts it will have up to 500,000 vehicles on the road with some form of electrification by 2017, with a focus on plug-in technology that was first introduced on its Chevrolet Volt, which is itself a descendant of GM's 1997-1999 EV1 electric car.

"The plug-in offers a unique opportunity to change the way people commute," said Mary Barra, senior vice president of Global Product Development at the GM Electrification Experience in San Francisco.

The Spark EV's motor and drive units will be built at GM's plant near Baltimore. Price and range hasn't been announced yet, although Chevy has confirmed 0-60 times of less than eight seconds.

Barra said a lot of learning from Chevrolet's plug-in hybrid Volt has gone into the Spark EV. GM is also rapidly expanding its mild-hybrid line-up with what it calls eAssist.

Mild-hybrids shut down the gas engine at stop lights and in some other situations but don't run on pure electric under load as full hybrids can. The rollout of eAssist continues on mainstream brands such as the Buick LaCrosse, Regal and Chevrolet Malibu, as well as the 2014 Impala.

It could be argued that electrification will be even bigger in 2013 for Ford, which is in the midst of rolling out it's C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid. In press materials, it never mention's Chevy's relatively low-volume Volt, instead making numerous comparisons to the Prius family of hybrids.

The C-Max Energi gets the equivalent of 105 miles per gallon (MPGe), which Ford points out is five more than the Prius Plug-in hybrid.

Ford said 25 percent of new vehicle shoppers will consider plug-in hybrids and wants to be at the front of the line when appealing to that group.

"C-MAX Energi joins C-MAX Hybrid to help Ford take on Prius for the first time, with great early signs as the hybrid outsold Prius V in its first full month of sales in October," said C.J. O'Donnell, Ford Electrified Vehicle Marketing manager, in a news release.

The plug-in Ford Fusion hybrid also arrives in 2013, hot on the heels of the Focus electric, which arrived earlier this year.

Chrysler will also be using the LA Auto Show to jump in the game with the unveiling of the Fiat 500e. The 500e will also be a pure electric and a direct competitor to Chevy's Spark EV. Both are expected to be introduced first in California showrooms next summer.

The rush to market with electrics is fueled in part by the federal government, which currently allows a federal tax credit up to $7,500 on electric vehicles such as the Volt and by increasing gas mileage requirements. 

We're likely to see an ever increasing number of electric-assisted vehicles filtering down to almost all vehicle segments. Cadillac announced it will build its ELR plug-in hybrid coupe and other major manufacturers such as BMW, Porsche, Hyundai, VW and others have hybrids and plug-ins either already on sale or in the pipeline. 

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