By MATT BLAIR
The Virginia Automobile Dealers Association hosts the Virginia Motor Trend International Auto Show annually to give the public a chance to open doors, kick tires, and familiarize themselves with new model year vehicles from a variety of manufacturers.
The first car attendees saw when they entered the Virginia Motor Trend International Auto Show was a Fiat 500—a note-worthy initial display, since it is the first time a Fiat has been commercially available in the United States since 1984.
The fuel-sipping Fiat 500 is estimated by the EPA to run on 30 miles-per-gallon in the city and 38 highway from its 4-cylinder gasoline-powered engine.
The show, which took place on in the Greater Richmond Convention Center, it was a chance for product specialists and representatives from local automotive dealerships to meet and talk with the general public, and answer their questions about the new hybrid and electric vehicle technology.
As car manufacturers race to offer the public more fuel-efficient hybrid and electric vehicles, it is the public who benefits. Dan Corizzo, car show attendee, said, “At least now I have some options, and know that I may be making a difference for future generations by buying a hybrid or electric car in the future.”
Chevrolet, Buick and GMC were prominently displayed on the showroom floor as well as featuring an “Experience the Drive” event, which gave attendees a chance to drive a variety of cars such as the Camaro SS, the Buick Regal, and the brand new, electric powered Volt.
Hybrid and electric cars aren’t the only options for the future of automotive transportation.
Volkswagon is known for its extremely efficient and powerful diesel engine cars in Europe, and are beginning to bring them to the American market. According to Volkswagon product specialist Grayson Willis, Volkswagon is placing more emphasis on introducing diesel as an alternative to the hybrid or electric car.
Willis said, “[Volkswagon’s] focus on clean vehicles is the diesel engine.” But clean diesel isn’t their only focus, as they have constructed a new production plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., that is a LEED certified Silver plant, and is, according to Willis, “the most modern auto production facility in the world.”
Andrew Mullen, a senior at Mary Washington, thinks that diesel engine cars are a better option than gasoline because “they get better fuel mileage, and have easier engine maintenance.”
Willis said that “most Volkswagon diesel engines go anywhere from 40 to 50 percent further per gallon than comparable gasoline powered cars.”
Other manufacturers, such as Fiat, Ford, Cadillac, Subaru and Volvo, set a variety of cars on display, most of them choosing to emphasize their eco-friendly models. There were 20 different hybrid models featured by 10 of the manufacturers.
Honda had three different hybrid models featured, the newest being the CR-Z hybrid sport.
Justin Zukowski, product specialist from Pierson Honda in Richmond, said that the CR-Z is “a hybrid with a little more horsepower, a sport-tuned suspension, and a little more get-up-and-go.”
The Honda CR-Z has Environmental Protection Agency mileage estimates of 35, 39 and 37 miles per gallon for city, highway and combined driving, respectively.
With most accessories added on to the price, the CR-Z would cost $28,401, based on the Honda.com “Build Your Honda” web application.
“You get the fuel efficiency of a hybrid car, and the fun sportiness of an enthusiasts car,” said Zukowski.
Emmilou Carter, representative from Whitten Brothers on Midlothian Turnpike in Richmond, VA said, “It’s so much fun to drive. The four-cylinder engine is awesome, the suspension feels great and has over 500,000 ways to customize it.”
Three grand touring “supercars,” a 2010 Ferrari California, a 2010 Masarati Gran Tourismo and a 2010 Aston Martin V8 Vantage, were also on display courtesy of Ferraris on the Vine, from Williamsburg, and Foreign Cars Italia.
Supercars are large-engine, ultra-high-performance, exotic cars.
Supercars are the epitome of vehicle engineering featuring high-end performance, precision handling, and are considered luxury sports cars. Almost all cars that are considered “supercars” are manufactured in Europe, and most carry a sticker price north of the $100,000 mark.
The most expensive supercar on the market today, and coincidentally the fastest, is the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport. The Veyron Super Sport has a 16-cylinder, quad-turbocharged engine which produces 1,200 horsepower, 1,100 pound-feet of torque, and, certified by the Guinness Book of World Records, a record top speed of commercially available vehicles of 269.8 miles-per-hour. According to British television car show Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson, the Veyron Super Sport inhales 9,900 imperial gallons of air per minute, which is as much air as a human breathes in four days. The Veyron Super Sport also costs 2.6 million dollars.
The American musclecar is much more affordable, and was initially “made to go fast and then stop. They weren’t originally designed for fuel efficiency” said Rosemary Hampton of Whitten Brothers.
Yet recent engineering and design advancements have greatly increased the fuel mileage estimates of American musclecars, like the 2012 Ford Mustang V-6 that has 305 horsepower and gets an EPA estimated 25 to 26 miles-per-gallon on the highway, and has a starting sticker price of $22,145.
But the terms “supercar” and “musclecar” has become vague in recent years due to technological advancements in engine design, function and efficiency.
“Everything is changing,” Foreign Cars Italia sales consultant Hank Carpenter said.
For example, Japanese auto makers Subaru took a base model Impreza, what would be considered a typical “slow” car, a four-cylinder hatchback, and made it into a 305 horsepower car with 300 pound-feet of torque that manages to get 17 miles per gallon in the city and 23 on the highway according to its EPA ratings.
The Subaru WRX STI provides the “fun factor” of owning a high-powered car while being relatively fuel-efficient. It accelerates from naught to 60 miles-per-hour in less than five seconds and the quarter-mile in less than 14.
“Enthusiasts are going to drive them,” said Kristina Martin, product specialist for Subaru, speaking on the WRX STI. All Subaru vehicles feature all-wheel-drive, which, according to Martin, is “a safety feature. That’s why we put it standard in all our cars.”
Subaru also featured a Legacy model equipped with its new Partial Zero Emissions Vehicles (PZEV) technology, alongside its high-performance STI vehicles. The PZEV-equipped vehicles are Subaru’s effort to provide clean transportation which feature efficient gas mileage.
According to Subaru’s website, the California Air Resource Board (CARB) has defined the PZEV vehicles as meeting “Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV) exhaust emissions standards and zero evaporative emissions standards. Vehicles meeting these standards are considered the cleanest gasoline-powered vehicles.”
The PZEV technology is available in their Forester, Legacy, and Outback models. The Legacy on display was EPA-rated at 23 miles per gallon in city driving and 31 on the highway. With these mileage ratings, its annual fuel costs are estimated at $1,732.
Mazda did not have any hybrid or electric models on display because according to Chase Peak of Pearson Mazda, they only offer one hybrid, the Tribute and it is only available on the West Coast.
“The car industry will be using internal combustion for a long time,” Peak said.
Nestled amidst new Corvettes and Silverado pick-up trucks was the Chevrolet Volt. Unlike hybrids, which use a gasoline-powered engine and electric motor, the Volt uses only electricity. But it still uses some gasoline. Eve Gregson, product specialist for Chevrolet, explained “the gas never propels the vehicle itself. The gas engine acts as a generator powering the electric motor.”
On a single battery charge, the Volt can run in pure electric mode for a range of up to 50 miles. The gasoline-powered generator extends the range an additional 340 miles.
According to Gregson, this allows the Volt to “not be limited by range.”
The Volt plugs into any standard three prong outlet, and takes 8 to 10 hours to fully charge a depleted battery. Gregson said Chevrolet, “wanted to make it [the act of plugging in the car] as user friendly as possible.”
The Volt averages 93 miles-per-gallon in electric mode, 37 miles-per-gallon when running on the generator, and an average of 60 mile-per-gallon when using both.
Gregson said, “It is perfect for the short commute and daily running around.”