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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

A Green Auto Show?

Air Date: Week of

Green Car of the Year® nominee: Mazda Tribute Hybrid (Photo: Los Angeles Auto Show)

The Los Angeles Auto Show is often considered the "greenest" auto show in the U.S. But while some manufacturers are debuting environmentally-friendly cars onsite, others are offering nothing but promises of things to come. Living on Earth's West Coast Bureau Chief Ingrid Lobet stopped by the show and reports on just how green it is.


CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts—this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. The toughest anti pollution standards for cars are in California. So it’s no wonder that the annual auto show in Los Angeles features some of the world’s greenest cars. Living on Earth’s West Coast bureau chief Ingrid Lobet drove over to the L.A. Convention Center and joins us from the auto show. Hi, Ingrid!

LOBET: Hi, Steve.

CURWOOD: So this is supposed to be the greenest car show of them all. How green is it?

LOBET: Well there’s no doubt that cars have been getting a lot cleaner, Steve. I’m not talking about fuel efficiency yet so much as conventional pollution—the car as a source of pollution. There have been tremendous gains on that front in recent years. Exhaust systems of cars have been getting much more sophisticated, and things like the air conditioning, refrigerant—there are fewer vapors from that refrigerant and fewer gasoline vapors leaking out of cars these days and while people might not think that that adds up to much, the experts say it does.

Green Car of the Year® nominee: Mazda Tribute Hybrid (Photo: Los Angeles Auto Show)

CURWOOD: So, of course global warming and the soaring price of gasoline are very much on people’s minds these days. So how are the carmakers doing addressing those concerns?

LOBET: Well, I think if anyone is looking to get 40 or 45 or 50 miles per gallon or more, they’re probably going to be disappointed. Ten years after the birth of the Toyota Prius in Japan—in fact, I think you drove it ten years ago, didn’t you?

CURWOOD: I sure did. In Kyoto, they rolled them out. I have to say that at that auto show they only had like two cars. They wouldn’t let us drive them. I guess they didn’t want us to bend them up as the Kyoto conference was beginning. But yeah, it was pretty cool.

Green Car of the Year® nominee: Nissan Altima Hybrid (Photo: Los Angeles Auto Show)

LOBET: Well ten years after that car debuted there, and several years after Honda introduced its Civic hybrid, those are still really your only choices for really high fuel efficiency in the United States. And if you want a really fuel-efficient car, one that brings you close to being, let’s say, weaned off gasoline, you still only have those two choices. There are several announces for plug-in hybrids that would bring fuel efficiency up to 70, 80, 90 miles per gallon, but you can’t go out and buy any of them. Not now, not in the next six months.

CURWOOD: So I understand that this year there are some green car awards. Who makes the awards and what are the cars that are on that list?

LOBET: The people who make the awards are The Green Car Journal, and the five cars nominated this year are the Chevy Malibu Hybrid, Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, the Mazda Tribute Hybrid, the Nissan Altima, and the Saturn Aura Hybrid. All five hybrids and the best fuel efficiency in the city of those five would be 35 miles per gallon and the best on the highway—33.

CURWOOD: I noticed that the Chevy Tahoe is in that list. Now, that’s a big truck. When you have these SUVs that go around that drink 10, 12, 14 miles to the gallon—that has a huge impact on the planet. What kind of mileage are these big SUVs getting? Like, how about the Cadillac Escalade?

LOBET: Well you are starting to be able to get some of the larger SUVs in hybrid versions and some of them do have significant increases in fuel efficiency and when I say significant I mean you’re beginning to get some of the larger vehicles with perhaps as much as 30 miles per gallon on the highway. The Cadillac Escalade in the hybrid goes from 12 to 18 miles per gallon in the city so that is a significant increase.

Green Car of the Year® nominee: Saturn Aura Hybrid (Photo: Los Angeles Auto Show)

CURWOOD: That’s a 50 percent improvement there. Now, what about cars that are powered by other fuels? I think a lot of people were hoping there would be some affordable, clean diesel vehicles out there this model year. But they don’t seem to be on the market.

LOBET: Yeah. That’s really interesting. In the promotional literature for the Los Angeles Auto Show, Volkswagen said that the Jetta TDI for the 2008 model year had been certified for emissions in all 50 states. But it looks like at the last minute, that didn’t turn out to be true so all those diesel car enthusiasts are still going to have to wait a little bit longer for—at least for the California certification.

CURWOOD: Well thanks, Ingrid! Living on Earth’s West Coast bureau chief Ingrid Lobet. Safe driving.

LOBET: Thanks, Steve.



Los Angeles Auto Show


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