Electric and alternative-fuel cars and trucks are crowding out the red sports cars and high-tech future-mobiles at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show this year, with auto makers unveiling prototypes and plans for limited production of the lower-emission vehicles.
In doing so, auto makers again recognized the call for environmentally sensitive cars and trucks that will be required later in the decade by California and other states with smog problems.
Among the announcements at a press preview Thursday for the auto show, which opens an eight-day run Saturday at the Los Angeles Convention Center:
* In the largest pilot program by a major auto maker so far, Ford Motor Co. said it would make 80 electric-powered minivans starting in late 1992 for test operation in fleets. The first 10 will be delivered to Southern California Edison Co. The cost: a whopping $100,000 apiece, Edison officials said.
In addition, Ford will unveil a prototype electric passenger car at next week's Detroit auto show, said John R. Wallace, director of Ford's electric vehicle program. Of the major U.S. auto makers so far, only General Motors Corp. has shown off a prototype electric passenger car, the Impact.
* BMW, the German sports-car maker, unveiled a non-working model of a prototype electric passenger car based on an earlier European version. Suggesting an over-inflated Honda Civic--except for the trademark BMW grille--the green E-2 was designed in Southern California to serve as a utilitarian electric commuter car.
* Starting this summer, Chrysler Corp. said it would make up to 2,100 Dodge Spirits that can run on either gasoline or a mixture of gas and methanol. The cars will be sold mainly to state and federal government fleets for the same price as gasoline models. By 1994 or 1995, the car maker said it would be able to make as many as 100,000 of the vehicles.
Chrysler will also begin production on a natural-gas-powered, full-size van by the end of March, with the goal of building about 2,000 a year, according to alternative-fuels executive Douglas D. Teague. Such vans will command a $5,000 premium over their gasoline-powered counterparts.
* GM will begin taking orders this month for the first of 2,000 natural-gas-powered, full-size pickup trucks--including 1,400 Chevrolet trucks--to be produced starting in April.
The vehicles drew praise from state air-quality and energy officials. But no auto maker was willing to commit to full production of an electric vehicle just yet. The main hang-up? Lack of a good battery technology.
On Thursday, officials of a research consortium that is working to develop a practical battery system said they would award the first of several research contracts as early as this month.
The United States Advanced Battery Consortium--made up of electrical utilities, the three big U.S. car makers and the Department of Energy--will award $260 million of research money through 1994, said consortium Chairman John R. Wallace of Ford.
Chrysler's Francois Castaing, a member of the consortium, said the battery group had narrowed its choices to two near-term technologies--nickel-metal-hydride and sodium-sulfur batteries--both of which promise more power storage than conventional lead-acid car batteries.
BMW engineer Klaus Faust said he would approach the consortium about sharing data, and Castaing said the group would listen. But Castaing added that a Japanese auto maker last year contacted the group about taking part--and was rebuffed.