Automakers are stepping out in a big way to showcase their advanced models and concepts at nontraditional venues. The 2012 Dwell on Design Show in Los Angeles is the most recent example of how cars and lifestyle are intertwined. We’ve seen this for years at sporting events and other non-auto-specific venues, but the pace has accelerated as well as the outreach. The past few Consumer Electronics Shows – that industry’s leading showcase of everything electronic – has gone beyond its usual tie-in with automobiles, featuring automaker keynotes and concept vehicle unveilings that emphasize the influence advanced electronics have in our modern cars.
The connection at Dwell on Design, the West’s largest modern design show by Dwell magazine, is clearly understandable: Consumers attending Dwell on Design who seek ideas and cool stuff to outfit their homes and outside environs mostly arrive by car…and are likely to have one or two more cars at home. Plus, a major focus at Dwell is fine design, and it’s no secret that styling and design are major purchase influencers at new car showrooms.
It’s also not lost on automakers that a vehicle is typically a household’s second-largest purchase, following their home. For many apartment dwellers and renters, it is their largest and most significant purchase. Dwell on Design brought in these consumers by the thousands, surpassing last year’s record attendance of 23,000 halfway through its three-day run. This was good news for Infiniti, the show’s presenting auto sponsor.
Infiniti had a major presence at this year’s show with its all-new JX crossover, M Hybrid, and elegant LE electric concept. The high-tech, all-electric LE concept was fresh from its recent unveiling at the New York International Auto Show so this West Coast showing was important.
The Infiniti LE not only features the kind of design aesthetics ideal for style-conscious, trend-setting Dwell on Design, but also stirs the imagination with unique features like its wireless charging technology. This advanced, cable-less system uses Infiniti’s Intelligent Park Assist to perfectly position the car over a floor-mounted wireless charging pad for effortless charging. A version of the Infiniti LE concept will emerge as a production vehicle in 2014.
In another example of innovative electric vehicle charging, the Dwell Outdoors exhibit area showcased a Nissan LEAF charging beneath an LSX Canopy solar carport by Dwell on Design 2012 Energy Design Award winner Lumos Solar.
The alignment with homes and autos continued right outside the main doors of Dwell on Design with the Green Car Tour ride-and-drive presented by Green Car Journal and CarsOfChange.com, where attendees could sign up to drive an array of advanced and efficient vehicle models.
This second annual ride-and-drive at Dwell on Design featured diverse advanced automotive technologies and fuels, including electric, extended range electric, hybrid, hydrogen, and biodiesel. In keeping with the design theme of Dwell on Design, among these were some of the most elegant and stylish vehicles on the market today including such desirable luxury ‘green’ models as the Fisker Karma electric sport sedan, Acura ILX Hybrid, VW Touareg Hybrid, and Infiniti M Hybrid.
Electric vehicles played a big role at this Green Car Tour ride-and-drive. The Chevy Volt extended range electric vehicle – Green Car Journal’s 2011 Green Car of the Year – was on hand for attendee and media drives, along with the Ford Focus Electric and CODA electric sedan. CODA just recently began deliveries of its electric sedan to customers so the ride-and-drive provided a welcome opportunity to experience this new automaker’s products.
One of the challenges with extended range electric vehicles like the Volt is helping consumers understand how this exciting advanced powertrain technology functions and its ability to seamlessly fit their lifestyles and environmental goals. The ability to get behind the wheel of a Chevy Volt and experience it first-hand is important, and enlightening. Understanding how electric vehicles are charged is also important, and Ford attended to this by demonstrating charging of its Focus Electric with a Ford-branded, 240-volt Leviton Level 2 charger at the ride-and-drive.
Clean diesel’s role in bringing higher fuel efficiency and lower CO2 greenhouse gas emissions to our highways was showcased by Audi’s 42 mpg A3 TDI and VW’s 43 mpg Passat TDI, the former Green Car Journal’s 2010 Green Car of the Year and the latter one of Green Car Journal’s Top 5 Green Cars for 2012.
Both models run on conventional ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel but are approved for operating on up to B5 biodiesel. VW is currently working with two California biofuel producers, Solazyme and Amyris, in a year-long demonstration to explore the role that renewable biodiesel fuel can play in displacing petroleum and decreasing emissions.
While readily-available production models dominated the field of 19 ‘green’ vehicles at the Green Car Tour ride-and-drive, Audi and Mercedes-Benz also fielded exciting advanced technology cars that share future product plans. Audi’s A3 e-tron, an all-electric variant of the popular Audi hatchback, was on hand to showcase an important part of this automaker's electric e-tron development program. The A3 e-tron is part of an electric vehicle pilot program that’s unfolding in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Denver.
Mercedes-Benz also brought its advanced F-Cell, a five-door, four-passenger hydrogen-electric car offering a 190 mile range. The car’s fuel cell electrochemically converts hydrogen into electricity without combustion to power the vehicle’s electric drive wheels. Mercedes is currently conducting a limited lease program of 36 F-Cells in Northern and Southern California.
In an interesting sidebar, it was clearly evident how important electrification is to the auto industry as it looks forward. Of the 19 vehicles fielded at the Green Car Tour ride-and-drive, 11 were exclusively or primarily electric drive, six were ‘conventional’ hybrids, and two clean diesel.
And the most popular car to drive at this year’s Green Car Tour at Dwell on Design? While all the vehicles at the ride-and-drive were popular, there’s little doubt the Fisker Karma extended range electric car had the most consistent lines of attendees waiting for their chance to get behind the wheel. Designed by Henrik Fisker, former head of design at Aston-Martin, BMW, and Ford, the Karma elicited more thumbs-ups and shout-outs than any car we’ve ever driven during our test drive in L.A. a few months back. It was no different here.