NEW YORK CITY — The glitz at the New York International Auto Show is around a full slate of press conferences from all the major automakers. I went to a bunch of them, saw the 2014 Chevrolet Impala rolled out, the all-new Hyundai Santa Fe, the equally re-imagined Nissan Altima, some high-end Mercedes-Benzes, the 2013 Lincoln MKZ (a striking design), the BMW X1, and more. The SRT Viper introduction was definitely the loudest I’ve ever attended — and I saw the Who in 1971.
The car of the show, for me, was the Infiniti LE Concept, and not just because it's a plug-in electric and had a glowing plastic grille that strongly resembled an ice sculpture. That grille, and the all-glass roof are probably not going to make it into production, but stripped of them the car would still have a lot of presence. And I like the idea of an upscale four-door sedan alternative to the Leaf hatchback.
The LE, or something like it, will be the Infiniti version of the Nissan Leaf, and it should be in showrooms in two years. Chikuya Takada, a chief product specialist for electric cars at Nissan, told me that the car will retain the Leaf’s 24-kilowatt-hour battery pack, but with improved aerodynamics (he said 0.25 CD, matching the Toyota Prius) and a bigger electric motor, it should accelerate faster.
The LE is also being set up for wireless charging, and although the pad under the car was just for show, Nissan assures me that the actual vehicle will have that capability. The owner will drive over the pad, with in-car guidance likely taking over the task of positioning the vehicle exactly.
The U.S. will be the LE’s primary market, Takada said, and it will attract three main buyers — visionaries, the young tech-savvy folks, and people whose prime interest is relief from $4 gas. There may not be a huge number of the latter, because electric cars take a while to bring a return on their investment.
The Javits Center’s lower level, also known as the basement, hosts some of the cooler startup companies. I’ve reported here on the evolving electric DeLorean project, and a very finished-looking prototype of the car was on display down there — complete with an electric blue battery light display.
Stephen Wynne, who’s been fixing DeLoreans for 30 years, more recently as the owner of the company’s remaining parts and repair business, is planning to introduce a run of 300 electric DeLoreans, as well as continuing to build a few gas versions from that inventory. (He still has 80 unused Peugeot/Renault/Volvo engines for the DeLorean, as well as a big stock of stainless steel panels. He’s run out of flux capacitors, though.
In an odd bit of serendipity, however, DeLorean Motor Company, now based in Texas, has a plentiful supply of Flux Power batteries — and the electric car runs on them. DeLorean is partnered with Chris Anthony, the guru behind not only Flux batteries but also the now-defunct Aptera project and the new line of Epic EVs (including a super-fast three-wheeler, something like a Tesla dune buggy). Here's the electric DeLorean on video:
Wynne, who is British, is a great salesman for the car — his enthusiasm for all things DeLorean, even after 30 years, is infectious. I asked him if anybody would remember the car if it had not been for three mega-successful "Back to the Future" movies, and he said it would still be an icon. Wynne even met John DeLorean once, and found him keenly interested in what had happened to his ill-fated enterprise. As you may recall, labor unrest at the Northern Ireland factory included the lobbing of Molotov cocktails over the factory roof. The body dies were thrown into Galway Bay, but that wasn’t terrorism — they made an artificial reef out of them.
The electric car will run rings around the gas version, with a 4.9-second zero-to-60 time. It can also hit 125 mph, but at that speed you probably won’t get the claimed 100-plus mile range. According to Wynne, “The original car had a 68/32 weight bias — it was front-heavy. But on the electric one we have 55/45, and it feels much more balanced.” Great. I’m tired of talking about this car; I want to drive it! The car goes on sale next year with a target price of $95,000, and there are four dealers lined up in the U.S., and one in Europe.
Right next to DeLorean was another cool concept, the Vehicle Production Group MV-1 (right), which is the world’s first factory-produced, wheelchair-accessible automobile. It’s an all-new design, not a conversion, and it’s available in a timely three-tank natural gas version (save $1.50 per gallon at the pumps). A nice thing about the MV-1 is that it's being made in the U.S.A., in an Indiana factory that once housed the gas-guzzling Hummer H2.
According to CEO John Walsh, the MV-1 on natural gas has 290-mile range, which is very good considering that CNG has lower energy content. The ramps come in both powered and manual mode, and the vans can accommodate two at once. They’re working on a drive-yourself version, with the wheelchair becoming the driver’s seat. The MV-1 will be aimed at owner-drivers, and also transit fleets such as the Access-a-Ride vehicles that provide on-demand transportation in New York.
Finally, I can’t write this piece without mentioning the Terrafugia Transition, a car/plane that has captivated the general public. There were big crowds waiting for the wing-unfolding exhibition. I took a tour with Richard Gersh, the vice president of business development. He made it plain that getting all the appropriate legal approvals for a car/plane is the hard part — think the EPA, DOT and the FAA. “Current insurance regulations and emissions standards do not contemplate a flying car,” he said.
Terrafugia has made its first test flights in the second test version of the Transition (left), and has taken 100 $10,000 deposits (10 percent of them international) on what will be a $279,000 vehicle. The Transit is big, with the footprint of a Cadillac Escalade, but it’s a fifth the weight at less than 1,000 pounds. Most of the Transition is made out of ultra-light carbon fiber, which is one big reason it’s so expensive. The wings weigh only 75 pounds.
Range is 450 miles as a plane, 500 as a car (with a 100-horsepower Rotax 912S engine) — 35 mpg is claimed. Take a look at the video and, to paraphrase Sinatra, come fly with me:
Also on MNN: Fuel economy rules at New York Auto Show