Manufacturers love to bring their electric concepts to California, and this year was no different.  Most manufacturers had at least one plug-in model of some sort, either for sale or as a concept. There were a lot of impressive displays…and some a little less so.

Impressive: Chevy, Tesla, Hyundai, Jaguar, Zelectric, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid and the Cadillac CT6.

Conflicted: MINI’s Countryman Plug-In Hybrid.

Disappointing: Ford, VW/Audi, and of course every manufacturer with no plug-in models on display (Land Rover, GMC, Dodge, SRT, Jeep, Ram, Mazda, Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, Maserati, Alfa Romeo and Buick).

Check under the break for the gallery and some short impressions.

(Missing from the gallery – “Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid Executive” Plug-In Hybrid, and any others they may have been showing (the 918 perhaps?), because Porsche’s booth was in a separate area which I missed, and a full-body photo of the Prius Prime Plug-In Hybrid because the photo I took of it was unfortunately out-of-focus)

IMPRESSIVE:

Chevy’s Bolt EV, Motor Trend Car of the Year, was star of the show and star of their display, with front-and-center positioning and a place on the turntable alongside its uncle the Volt.

Tesla’s booth was in its own side area which was a little confusing to get to, which made the significant crowd – so significant that it was impossible to get a clear photo of the cars without a swarm of people around them – all the more impressive.  They were also the only manufacturer which seems to have brought a large contingent of actual Tesla employees who were quite knowledgeable about the car and company, as opposed to most other manufacturers who brought all or mostly temporary hires.

Hyundai had a significant selection of alternative fuel vehicles all placed prominently in their booth.  They seemed proud that their Tucson is the first mass-produced fuel cell CUV, and placed it right up front in the display, next to their 3 Ioniq powertrains (Electric, PHEV and hybrid) and Sonata PHEV.  They also had a modified Ioniq Hybrid which recently set a hybrid land speed record – but that record, at just over 157mph, seems low, as there are certainly hybrids which can and have done faster speeds than that, perhaps just not at Bonneville.

Jaguar’s I-PACE looked excellent in real life.  I take back any skepticism I had about it being “too Tron-y.”  They did a fantastic job with this car…as long as they don’t set the price too high.

Chrysler put their new Pacifica Hybrid front and center, with a turntable display and large video screen and a separate “kids area” to show off the car’s family-friendliness.  They seem to be going all-in on this vehicle, which seems to be a good value compared to the gasoline version.

Cadillac’s CT6 Plug-In Hybrid felt very Cadillac-y, and as we’ve covered before seems to be an exceptional value when compared to the equivalent gas model.

BMW brought several plug-in models, with 4 plug-in hybrids and one full-EV-which-can-also-be-a-hybrid-and-BMW-tries-real-hard-to-sell-it-as-one (the i3), which was more plug-ins than any other manufacturer.

Zelectric deserves special mention.  They’re a small company in Oceanside, CA which does custom retrofits of classic cars, mostly VWs, with electric powertrains.  They’ve taken apart Tesla batteries and put them into various classic cars, including a VW Beetle, Bus, Karmann Ghia, and a Thing, and a Porsche 911, while keeping most other parts of the cars original.  They really have passion for EVs and were great to talk to.  I’ll be following up with another story on them at some point in the future.

NOT SO IMPRESSIVE:

Ford has a slightly updated Focus EV this year, but despite having the largest booth at the LA Auto Show, they stuffed their alternative fuel models in the very back behind a wall with no real indication that they were there.  I had to ask a rep where they were and he pointed me back behind the wall where I saw the Focus EV and Fusion and C-MAX Energi models.  There were no reps back there, and the cars had limited information on their displays as the vehicles seem not to be finalized for sale yet.  One wall did mention Ford’s autonomous vehicle program, expecting full autonomy in 2021.  This seems like an interesting headline, and yet it was written in the most inconspicuous place in the entire booth.

VW/Audi brought their same single plug-in model each, with nothing new to show.  Considering they’ve been cheating on emissions for years and have heavy fines and penalties coming their way, one would think bringing at least some new EV concepts to California would be the right thing to do.  But instead they just brought their retrofitted half-measure EV models among a sea of emissions-cheating gas guzzlers.  The e-Golf was up on the turntable, but it’s going to take more than that to impress after years of lying, VW.  Get it together.

CONFLICTED:

MINI’s Countryman Plug-In Hybrid is a welcome addition to the line, especially for this writer as I was a MINI E “Pioneer” way back in 2009.  It even brings back the old “E” plug-in logo, a throwback to the original MINI E.

But it’s not fully electric, has a fairly tiny battery (7.6kWh and 24 miles NEDC, which will translate to less than 20 miles EPA range), it’s enormous (the “biggest MINI” yet, which is a contradiction), and most glaringly the bullet-point display next to the car leads with point number one: “Charging is Optional.”

So this is rant time for me.  Given the lead which BMW/MINI had over the whole field in terms of electrification with a really great retrofitted prototype back in 2009, it’s extremely disappointing for them not to have any full electric models yet, and for their first plug-in model to be quite the half-measure and say something as ridiculous as “charging is optional” in their marketing materials.  The point of buying a plug-in car is to make GASOLINE optional, not charging.  The charging part is the good part, the convenient part, the efficient part, the cheaper part, the more environmentally friendly part.

Whoever thought up that marketing line got it exactly backwards.  “Gas is optional” is a much better way to frame it.  That’s what the i3 does, and that’s why the i3, discounting its controversial looks and higher pricetag than most, is likely the most intelligently-designed and marketed PHEV on the road today – it understands that gas should be the option, not charging, and gives drivers enough range to do most of what they need to do without gas, and then a tiny gas generator for when you need that little extra push.  So BMW clearly “gets it” on some level.  And it’s very strange that MINI would not have learned this lesson, given that they come from the same parent company and have experience with electrification themselves.  Hopefully this will be rectified when MINI comes out with their planned all-electric model in 2019.