The AltCar Expo 2015 in Santa Monica, offered an excellent opportunity for people to get a taste of what it’s like to drive an alternative-fuel-powered, electric or hybrid vehicle. The event, was held in the parking lot of the Santa Monica Civic Center. There were booths either showing or offering test drives of some of the most popular alternative fuel vehicles, some that are not even available from dealers yet. There were also seminars and discussions for people to attend.
The event started at 10:00 am and lasted till 5:00 pm. All the people who wanted to drive had to sign a waiver and show driver’s licenses upon entering the expo area. In a short time, car buyers and enthusiasts are able to compare how the cars drive and feel. The route began with a circle in the parking lot onto the street, assisted by a traffic cop, to a one block loop around the block back to the parking lot. The driving area was plain urban. I did hear someone complain, that he was not able to really test the vehicles. The Ford EcoBoost Challenge used a much larger parking lot, that had bumps to drive over and curves to follow. Most people, however were able to get a good enough taste of each model to decide whether to go to a dealer and drive it further.
For the most part, there are were not very long waits and the rides afforded the public an opportunity to learn about clean vehicles. I was told that on the first day the longest wait was for the Toyota Mirai fuel cell car because there was only one available. On Saturday, there were two Mirai available and lines of 4 to 5 people waiting for just a few. The stands with three vehicles such as the E-Golf and the Kia Soul EV moved the fastest.
I noticed that line-waiters were most perturbed, when a test driver would arrive back to the starting point and sit in the car talking to the rep, sometimes for several minutes while people were waiting. To speed things up, the rep could have referred the driver to someone at the booth for questions. At the Ford Eco-Boost Challenge, there were displays describing the cars and sometimes a presentation that kept the line-waiters informed and also quickened the time waiting in line.
After a few hours and driving most of the vehicles, that I had not driven before, I was able to get a good sense of the best and worst qualities of each form of transportation as well as a general comparison of the vehicles present. Some models screamed to be get the most attention for certain qualities.
- Classiest with Most Sophisticated Tech on Board – the Mercedes-Benz Class B-Class Electric maintains Mercedes’ classic styling and to improve energy consumption uses a camera to the determine the most efficient eco-drive mode of driving.
- Busiest Booth with Most Buzz and Excellent Swag – the Chevy Volt and Spark EV were very popular. People were drawn to Chevrolet booth to see the 2016 Next Gen Chevy Volt and futuristic Chevy Bolt that promises a 200 mile charge range and cost around $30,000. There were sunglasses, T-Shirts and shopping bags as gifts. The 2016 Volt and Chevy Bolt looked better in person than the glamour photo shots. The Bolt’s front seats have a futuristic electric-guitar shaped corner near the center that gives it a very trendy look. The Bolt’s creamy white suede seats, however were showing signs of dirt and staining. The color choice or material most likely will change in the future.
- Most Zippy and Elegant – Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-CELL, hydrogen-powered car drives more like a gas vehicle and it’s power could be felt. The interior design is on somewhat sporty and as was the drive.
- Most Complex and Simple – the BMW i3 ReX has a very very sensitive acceleration pedal to make the car slow and regenerate energy with out tapping the brakes. The interior of the vehicle is made with recycled materials that makes it look like a Tiki bar with an iPad popping out. While most other vehicles seem to have the same flavor and styles of the controls the of cars by the same maker, the BMW i3 is in a category by itself which is why our reviewer who was multi-time BMW owner had trouble adapting to its unique style.
- Most Luxury Sedan-ish Wide Drive– the Toyota Mirai felt like a classic American sedan married to an Avalon or Camry with the power to keep a family or former luxury car owner happy.
- Coolest Youth Oriented – the Kia Soul EV follows the design of the Kia Soul, with round speakers jutting out of the dashboard and its coolest feature is air cooled seats.
- Tiniest Bumpiest – the smart fortwo electric drive is clearly a city car, designed to get you where you are going. The ride was closer to a golf cart than an a Golf.
- Most VW Gloffy – the Volkswagen e-Golf drivers just like a gas-powered Golf. It looks like Golf. It feels like Golf. It is a Golf, except it runs on electricity.
- The Most Classic Green and Clean – the Nissan LEAF has become a classic electric car and maintains a smooth ride that oozes eco-friendly.
- Hottest Gas with Sass – the Audi A3-etron hybrid is not available yet. It drove most like a gas vehicle, because the electric range is only 15 miles. To preserve energy, the rep, chose not to turn on the climate control and keep the windows open. It was a hot day and the wind was somewhat distracting from the driving experience. It had a sporty feel and was hot to trot. Since in Southern California most people drive with the air-conditioning on a majority of the time it would have been nice to drive it with air-conditioning. To be fair, there was only one vehicle available and no time to charge it
- Most Frustrating Displays – there were two Tesla Model S 85D on display. No one was allowed to drive Tesla vehicles. You could sit in one and that’s it. Even Tesla showrooms such as the one in Pasadena, technically do not allow anyone to test drive the car before buying it (although some can be seen driving in the alley behind the store). Tesla development was heavily subsidized by the US government, the state of California and the gigabattery factory will be subsidized by Nevada tax dollars. Tesla cars are only available to the very rich, at some point, the general public would like to be able to drive one.
- Most Dangerous – The Breeze Bike is not well-balanced for a short person, with the seat low and the handlebars high, it felt wobbly. Unfortunately, although I am a regular bicycle rider and the seat was adjusted for me it was very difficult to balance and I fell. The area available to ride the bicycle was too small to establish balance and the front basket was extremely heavy. There was no first aid kit available on-site, therefore, I was mopping up blood on my scraped elbow without help. There was also a test area for electronic balance skate boards. Because there is nothing protecting the human bodies, in the future, users of either the bicycles or the boards should be required to wear helmets and wrist guards.
I chose not to drive the Ford C-MAX, Ford C-MAX Hybrid or Ford Focus Electric because I test drove those models before at different events and the Ford EcoBoost Challenge (read review). I also did not drive the 2015 Chevy Volt because I spent time driving it in a previous review.
I would highly recommend the AltCar Expo to anyone interested in buying any kind of car because you will be able to test a wide range of vehicles that you may not have considered in a very short period of time. You also will be visiting Santa Monica, a city that actively promotes clean vehicles. There are two parking areas adjacent to the Civic Center with free electric car charging. There is a giant solar carport charging vehicles and a myriad of parking spaces in a parking structure with free charging.
For the most part, the event was very well organized and managed. I did notice that a man with a cane wanted to cut across the driving area to the parking lot. He was stopped by a worker who was rude to him. There were no signs indicating that people were not allowed to cross that area into the parking lot. In the future, it would be better if there were clear large no pedestrian signs similar to street signs. They could also use orange cones or bright tape to worn pedestrians.
There were some people who attended the event who were new to the whole concept of electric cars, it would have bee nice if there was a seminar or even a booth that defined the differences between BEVs, PHEVs, hybrids, Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and why you would chose one over the other. Well maybe next year, our friends at Electric Car Insider or other EV group will help newbies walk through the paces. In in all it was a great event, a beautiful day and when I returned to my electric car, it was fully charged…