AutoMatters & More: Orange County International Auto Show

It is that time of year again, time for the new vehicle auto show season. First up was the Orange County International Auto Show, held Oct. 15 – 18 at the Anaheim Convention Center.

This year, showgoers were invited to test-drive more than 100 vehicles from Honda, Chevrolet, Kia, Nissan, Mazda, Lexus, Acura, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler-Alfa Romeo. What was especially nice about these test-drive opportunities was that many of the manufacturers had outfitted their waiting areas with comfortable chairs and refreshments, inside the lower level of the convention center, next to the exotic cars. Hopefully this will be a trend followed by other auto shows.

Of the concept vehicles on display, the crowds — and I — were awestruck by the Toyota FT-1 high-performance sports car. Designed in Southern California by Toyota’s Calty Design Research, the FT-1 is absolutely stunning from every angle. Let Toyota know that they should produce this car.

At the Ford exhibit, the 2016 Focus RS made its U.S. debut. Enthusiasts were closely checking out this high-performance model. With a 2.3L EcoBoost engine that produces in excess of 315 horsepower, a 6-speed manual transmission, two-mode shocks (with a firmer setting for track use) and a new, Ford Performance all-wheel-drive system, it promises to be light, powerful, agile — and perhaps even affordable. I look forward to test-driving one of these when they are released.

California is where a large proportion of the nation’s green vehicles are sold, so I spent quite some time learning about the 2016 Toyota Mirai. This conventionally styled four-door sedan is Toyota’s new Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV). According to Toyota, it represents “the turning point in the future of transportation.”

Its fuel is hydrogen, which you would pump into the car’s carbon-fiber fuel tanks for storage. Refuel time is “about 5 minutes.”

From there, the hydrogen travels to the fuel cell stack, where it undergoes a chemical reaction with air. This creates electricity, which powers the Mirai. It also charges the battery, as does regenerative braking. In low speed acceleration, the battery supplements fuel cell output.

The only byproduct is water, which comes out of the tailpipe. Inside the cabin, on the dashboard, is a cool little switch labeled “H2O.” As I recall, they said that switch may be used to manually dump water.

The specifications reveal an EPA-rated range of 312 miles. System output is 151 hp with 247 lb-ft of torque. With those figures, I would expect the Mirai to drive like a normal midsize car. It has a well-appointed interior.

The Mirai is not a concept. It is here now, and you will soon see it bought and driven by the public on California roads. Toyota says that the cars in the first production run are already spoken for.

The price of admission to be on the cutting edge of automotive green technology is steep: $58,325. Federal and state incentives will bring that price down somewhat. Leasing might be the way to go.

Another thing to consider is the very limited number of hydrogen refueling stations — at least for now.

Something unusual got my attention when I looked at the Mirai’s hydrogen refueling nozzle. On the inside of the fuel door is printed “DO NOT REFUEL AFTER 2030/05.” What is that all about? Does this car have an expiration date?

Another all-new model that I carefully checked out was the 2016 Chevrolet Volt. Shoppers will like the sporty and more conventional styling of this new Volt, as compared with the previous generation. Its back seat now has room for a third (albeit small) passenger. All-electric range has been extended to 53 miles, and it now uses regular instead of premium gasoline.

If you have not yet made the trip to Anaheim for this show, make plans to do so next year. It is a very good auto show and, if the past few years are any indication, as a bonus you will once again be able to sign up for a free one-year subscription to Motor Trend Magazine (paper or online — your choice).

Next up will be the LA Auto Show, Nov. 20-29 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. AutoMatters & More will cover automotive highlights of that show for you, as well as the SEMA Show, the San Diego International Auto Show and CES (formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show).

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Copyright © 2015 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #408