California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may be down in the polls, but he looked comfortable flanked by a fleet of green cars, including Chevrolet Equinox and Mercedes F-cell hydrogen cars, a diesel Volkswagen Touran and a hybrid Ford Fusion. “It’s technology in the end that will save us all and help fight global warming,” he said.

Schwarzenegger spoke just before the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show, which is scheduled to run Dec. 4-13 (though the press gets an early look). The governor who told Detroit in 2007 to “get off your butt” is now crowing that “we didn’t take no for an answer.” Schwarzenegger’s state has the toughest emissions rules in the country, and that’s led to epic battles — but today the industry is united around a federal version of the state’s mandates (for 2012 to 2016), and the showroom floor will be crowded with green vehicles.

The production version of the Chevrolet Volt will be rolled out — though even ahead of CEO Fritz Henderson’s unveiling in Los Angeles, GM is saying that the $40,000 gas-electric hybrid, which uses its small gas motor to supply power to the electric motor, will initially be available only in certain markets. “We’re looking at infrastructure [and] tax credits,” Chevrolet President Brent Dewar told AutoWeek. “There definitely is demand.”

GM will also show off the Chevrolet Cruz, which looks to be a pretty credible small car to replace the aging Cobalt. And speaking of small cars, here are three concepts scheduled for their debut in Los Angeles:

  • Lexus LF-Ch. This is the year of weird car names. The Lexus is a welcome fuel-efficient compact (with a hybrid variant) that will actually go into production. Aimed at European cars such as the BMW 1-Series, Mercedes B-Class and the Audi A3, it’s an attractive hatchback that, alas, might not be sold in the U.S. The show car sports hybrid badges, and a lot of “hot hatch” performance cues. The hybrid supposedly will have electric-only capabilities, but that doesn’t make it a plug-in hybrid.
  • Volkswagen L1. This two-seater car (with the passenger behind the driver) beats the 70-mpg Polo BlueMotion hands-down: 170 mpg is claimed from a tiny 800-cc diesel engine mated to an electric motor and a seven-speed transmission. To get that mileage, the vehicle better be very light, and the L1 (with a carbon-fiber body) weighs only 838 pounds. It’s also extremely aerodynamic, with a drag coefficient far more slippery than any production car: just 0.195. Again, VW says it’s ultimately headed for showrooms (“near-production,” is what they say), though it may shed such big expenses as the carbon-fiber skin.
  • Honda P-Nut Coupe. Love the name, and I wish I could say I love the car, too, but all I know is that it emerged from Honda’s Advanced Design Studio in Los Angeles and is “a futuristic concept for an ultra-compact, aggressively designed coupe.” The concept is said to be more about smart packaging for a very small urban commuter car than any powertrain innovation. Honda’s headline says, “Futuristic design study demonstrates potential of ultra-compact, city-focused vehicle.” And P-Nut stands for “Personal-Neo Urban Transport.” The car will be revealed tomorrow, though, so I’ll let you know.
There will be more news coming out of L.A. There were some tidbits: Nissan said that by 2015 it will be able to produce a lithium-ion battery pack with double the range of the Leaf’s 100-mile pack. Tata wants to make a hybrid version of the $2,500 Nano. And Capstone (whose usual fare is hybrid buses) showed off a hybrid-electric supercar with an onboard diesel micro-turbine capable of 80-mile all-electric range (plus zero to 60 times of 3.9 seconds). Stay tuned.

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