Global warming, hot wheels


I found my midlife-crisis car at the Los Angeles Auto Show, and to my own great surprise, it’s not a Ferrari. Actually, it’s not even a Porsche. Embarrassingly enough, it’s a Honda.

Priorities change when you’re on the way to a hair-plug-buying, coed-ogling identity meltdown. For example, I’m no longer in the market for a car that is simply smoking hot; now I want to both impress chicks half my age and save the planet. Enter the Honda CR-Z.

It’s dangerous to fall in love with concept cars because, as often as not, they’re just there to tease you. But Honda is serious enough about the CR-Z, an updated hybrid version of the old CR-X, that it’s promising to produce it by 2010. Futuristic? It makes the hover-vehicles soaring between skyscrapers on the planet Coruscant look like antiques; imagine a white shark that has swallowed a bright purple video-game console and you get the general design concept. Mileage figures haven’t been released, but, if it’s close to Honda’s Civic hybrid, it will get about 40 mpg in city driving.


Automakers have had a couple of years now to adjust to high gas prices and changing consumer tastes, but the models being shown at the L.A. Convention Center demonstrate that they’re still not ready to build green cars. Although plug-in hybrid and all-electric concept cars abound, don’t expect to see them in 2009. The Toyota and General Motors displays were strangely quiet and forlorn, neither giant having brought anything new to show. In fact, the Big Three American car companies are in such dire financial straits that they may not survive to retool for a new generation of cleaner cars.

Well, make that the Big Two. After drooling all over the hood of the CR-Z, I headed over to see the car that, for greenies like me, is the most exciting 2009 vehicle being introduced in Los Angeles -- and it comes from, of all companies, Ford. Its new Fusion hybrid gets 39 mpg in the city. That’s better than a tiny, two-seat Smart car and nearly as good as a Toyota Prius, but the Fusion is a practical, mid-size sedan. It’s Ford’s best argument for a federal bailout, and almost makes me want to forgive William Clay Ford Jr. for the Excursion. It should be a big success, if anybody can get a loan to buy one.

Also hitting showrooms next spring is the Honda Insight hybrid, :3:s_b6439cb92e4c8d3d239669d40157c213_2592356264:9U9xbNBkLAoAADXT0t8AAAAV:20081120181841 though if you can spot any difference in appearance between this car and the Prius, you’re more discerning than I am. And probably hitting showrooms never is my favorite over-the-top concept car at the show, the Jeep Renegade, a four-wheel-drive two-seater that looks like GI Joe’s dune buggy. Not to be outdone on the outlandish-claims front, Jeep says the vehicle will get 110 mpg with a combination diesel engine and lithium-ion battery drive system. Plus, it will convert into a submarine for access to Joe’s secret undersea base.

-- Dan Turner