News Column

Honda Reveals Fuel Cell Car at L.A. Auto Show

November 21, 2013

James R. Healey, Alisa Priddle and Fred Meier, USA TODAY

honda fuel cell
Honda unveiled a concept fuel-cell car (Chris Carlson, AP)

LOS ANGELES -- Porsche is about to make the switch to an SUV company that also happens to sell sports cars.

Beginning next spring, the German maker that's now part of the Volkswagen Group will begin selling the Macan compact SUV, which it unveiled Wednesday at the auto show here.

Macan will start at $50,895, including shipping, for the 340-horsepower S, and $73,295 for the 400-horsepower Turbo.

Porsche plans to build 50,000 a year at a new plant in Leipzig, Germany. North America is to get one-third of those. Europe and Asia split the rest, 50/50.

Once Macan's up and running, it should combine with the larger Cayenne to make roughly 60% of Porsche's U.S. sales SUVs.

Porsche brushes off any suggestion that such a shift could water down its purist credentials.

"People said that about the Cayenne (SUV), but what you see happening is that the guy who has a 911 (sports car) also has a Cayenne" instead of the Mercedes-Benz or other high-dollar SUV he's been using as a family car or winter vehicle, says spokesman Nick Twork.

Patrick Long, a Porsche race driver, says he thinks the appeal will be that the Macan is smaller, lighter, nimbler than the Cayenne and won't seem so much "like your Dad's car."

He and tennis pro Maria Sharapova, who drives a 911, were celebrity "ambassadors" who helped Porsche give star power to the introduction of Macan at an executive-heavy VIP event for the SUV Tuesday night in advance of the show. The president of Porsche's executive board, Matthias Müller, and eight other high-ranking German and U.S. executives were on hand.

The name, Porsche says, is derived from an Indonesian word, spelled the same, for "tiger." The automaker says the pronunciation is ma-CAN.

Macan is derived from the Audi Q5, Audi also being a VW brand. But Porsche says it should have no trouble proving its vehicle is a pure-bred because about 70% of the components are entirely different, or significantly altered, from the Q5's.

Why do it? To give Porsche a lower-price model for buyers who otherwise couldn't afford the brand.

Other makers are doing the same. Mercedes-Benz just launched the CLA, a sleek, $31,000 four-door sedan meant to attract younger buyers who aren't as wealthy as the typical M-B owner. Audi has a new A3 sedan coming. And Acura is selling a modified version of the Honda Civic, called ILX, as its new entry model.

New Subaru WRX rewards patient fans

Subaru's iconic WRX, a rally-bred car embraced by predominantly young male buyers, had its world premiere Wednesday at the L.A. show.

While Subaru has built faithful fans with its lifestyle vehicles and boxer engine, it is the WRX and STI that elevate the brand to performance and cult status.

"While the addition of the WRX and STI won't generate nearly as much incremental volumes as their latest and greatest crossovers, the halo effect created by these fire-breathing Subarus will pay off dividends for years to come by exposing aspirational buyers and shoppers to the brand," said Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book.

The 2015 WRX rides on a new platform to make it stiffer and more agile than its predecessor and it has bigger brakes and a performance tuned suspension.

A new torque vectoring system reduces understeer for the all-wheel-drive car that has a new 268-horsepower 2-liter turbo boxer engine and its first 6-speed manual transmission. Buyers can also opt for a new continuously variable automatic transmission with manual modes.

The car is roomier -- the wheelbase is 1 inch longer -- and the overall look is bolder.

"Subaru fans are possibly the most dedicated in the automotive world," said KBB analyst Karl Brauer. "And WRX fans are the most dedicated within this group. The latest version is a visual stunner with even more advanced performance technology. The order line forms to the left."

Subaru also marked the 25th anniversary of the Legacy midsize sedan with a stylish Legacy concept to show the future design cues for the car.

Subaru has been growing faster than the competition in sales this year -- up 28.1% vs. the industry overall growth of 8.4% -- on the strength of its redesigned Forester and all-new XV Crosstrek utility based on the Impreza.

Honda shows concept for new fuel-cell car

Honda on Wednesday showed off a sleek concept for the design direction of its next hydrogen fuel-cell car, due in the U.S. and Japan in 2015.

Honda of America CEO Tetsuo Iwamura says the exotic-looking and aerodynamic FCEV Concept, making its world debut at the L.A. show, "hints at Honda's future direction for fuel-cell vehicles. While this car is a concept, it points toward a very real future."

The FCEV, which seats five, is considerably more futuristic in look than Honda's original fuel-cell vehicle, the FCX introduced in 2002. Honda says FCEV also has a significantly updated powerplant that is 33% more compact than the fuel-cell unit in its successor, the FCX Clarity launched in 2008, and puts out 66% more power at 100 kilowatts. And it says the new car will have a range of 300 miles on a fill-up of hydrogen.

A fuel-cell car uses hydrogen to produce electricity. The only emission is water vapor.

The test fleet of original cars, a couple hundred, has been leased to individual retail customers, and Honda has been collecting data on their performance and usage.

Honda continues to promote an infrastructure of hydrogen fueling stations that would support fuel-cell cars in wider use. And it has a deal announced last summer to work on fuel-cell technology in collaboration with General Motors, which was an early developer of the vehicles and has had its own test fleet of fuel cell-equipped Equinox SUVs.

Odd option on BMW i3 electric: A gas engine

BMW finally is set to put its futuristic i3 battery car into U.S. showrooms, offering a truly peculiar option for an electric car -- a gas engine.

The company showed off the car Wednesday at the L.A. show; earlier, on Tuesday, it hosted a drive for journalists of a fleet of them from Marina Del Rey on the shore to the downtown L.A. site of the show.

For $3,850 more than the price of the car you can have a 650 cc, two-cylinder BMW motorcycle engine. It's a so-called range extender.

It fires up and runs a generator when the battery pack gets low. Not new. That's how the Chevrolet Volt works.

But offering it as a stand-alone option is unique. Volt and other extended-range electrics have the auxiliary gasoline power built in, period. It's part of the basic design.

BMW thinks most people will buy the i3 as a pure electric when it goes on sale next April on the east side of the U.S. and May in the West. That setup, BMW says, should have a range of 80 to 100 miles.

But for those with serious range anxiety, the range-extender option roughly doubles how far you can go before it needs fuel of some kind. A 2.4-gallon gasoline tank feeds the motorcycle engine, and a fresh charge feeds the batteries.

Base price is $42,275, including $925 destination and excluding any tax credits.

The exterior is thermoplastic, similar to General Motors' discontinued Saturn cars. Underneath is a carbon-fiber reinforced plastic skeleton. That's mainly why the car weighs what it does.

Priddle also reports for the Detroit Free Press

Copyright 2013 USA TODAY

Original headline: Porsche goes SUV crazy

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Source: Copyright 2013 USA TODAY

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