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A New Shade of Green For LA Auto Show

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jeffgilbert Jeff Gilbert
Automotive reporter for WWJ Newsradio 950 and CBS Radio News....
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LOS ANGELES (WWJ) – This year’s “Green Car of the Year” is pretty familiar–the Honda Accord.

The award, which has normally gone to an exotic alternative powered vehicle, went a family sedan this year, because the Accord has so many different fuel efficient powertrains, ranging from conventional four and six cylinder gasoline powered engines, to hybrids, to plug in hybrids.

A lot of things that used to be unique selling propositions for some companies are becoming commonplace; safety, fuel efficiency and the environmental friendliness of a vehicle,” said Mike Accavitti, senior vice president of Automobile Operations at American Honda.

This is a big award for Honda, says Accavitti, who’s quick to add that his company is in a tight competition to put out environmentally friendly vehicles.

“We were leaders and pioneers in hybrid technology,” he said. “We let some competitors pass us by. We don’t like that.”

The hybrid version of the Honda Accord has an EPA-rated fuel economy of 50 mpg city. The plug-in version gets an equivalent of 115 miles per gallon.

Honda’s introduction at the LA Auto Show aims to raise the bar on fuel efficiency. The company showing a concept of a fuel cell powered vehicle that should be on the road in 2015.

Fuel cells generate electricity onboard vehicles by combining hydrogen and oxygen. The cost has been reduced over the years, but there’s still limited availability of hydrogen fuel. California has installed several hydrogen refueling stations. So the first fuel cell powered vehicles will be sold on the west coast.

Hyundai is promising a fuel cell powered version of its Tucson by this summer. It will be leased for $499 a month, a price that includes maintenance and the hydrogen fuel.

“We’ve done several generations of this technology now,” said Hyundai North America CEO John Krafcik. “We’ve gotten the costs out of the system, the reliability up.”

Toyota is planning to unveil details of its fuel cell offering in January, at the Consumer Electronics Show. It’s expected to be a mid size vehicle.

The company’s engineers have made a lot of progress on fuel cell technology, says Toyota vice president Bob Carter.

“They’ve been able to produce the fuel cells with much smaller packaging, which fits well inside a sedan type vehicle, as well as reduce the cost.”

Proponents of battery electric vehicles have raised doubts about fuel cells, citing costs and the lack of hydrogen availability. Fuel cell proponents have cited the range and recharging times of battery electric vehicles.

“As with any emerging technology, they are going to be fighting for a market segment,” said Kelly Blue Book analyst Alec Gutierrez. “It will be interesting to see who wins out in the end.”

Connect with Jeff Gilbert
Email: jdgilbert@cbs.com
Facebook: facebook.com/carchronicles
Twitter: @jefferygilbert

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