Eco-cars the buzz at LA auto show



Mini Cooper E

The new Cooper Mini E, electric version of the Mini, is unveiled during the Los Angeles Auto show.

Credit: AFP / Garbriel Bouys

Lexus RX450h Hybrid

The new Lexus RX450h Hybrid is displayed during the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Credit: AFP / Garbriel Bouys

Honda FC Sport fuel cell

The Honda FC Sport fuel cell concept car is unveiled during the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Credit: AFP / Garbriel Bouys

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LOS ANGELES: From electric cars to electronic trees on dashboards that sprout leaves when you drive in a more economical way, nothing is off limits for auto manufacturers seeking to show their green credentials.

Although this week's Los Angeles Auto Show has taken place against the gloomy backdrop of an industry in crisis, the event has nevertheless allowed some manufacturers to proudly display their latest eco-friendly models.

One of the highlights of the show has been the new electric Mini, owned by German giant BMW, which made its world premiere on Wednesday.

The latest incarnation of the iconic compact car, which originated in Britain in the 1950s, runs on a rechargeable electric battery and boasts zero emissions.

The groundbreaking car is capable of running 240 kilometers on a single charge and is to be made available by lease to 500 lucky test clients in Los Angeles and New York later this year before full production begins.

How successful the car is remains to be seen.

With leases weighing in at a hefty $850 a month, the Mini is likely to be beyond the reach of most consumers, and the size of the vehicle's battery means the car can only carry two people rather than the traditional four.

Elsewhere, South Korean car giants Hyundai proudly unveiled its fuel efficient "Blue Drive" hybrid technology.

The system uses next generation "lithium polymer" batteries, which will allow the car maker to offer a fleet of vehicles by 2015 all capable of 6.7 liters per 100 kilometers.

"Hyundai aims to be the most fuel-efficient automaker on the planet," said John Krafcik, vice-president, Product Development and Strategic Planning, Hyundai Motor America.

In addition, Hyundai is also hoping to attract buyers of its luxury Genesis Sedan by linking sales to helping the Amazon rain forest.

Hyundai hopes the Genesis Forest Project will offset about 93,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by conservation and reforestation of tropical forest in Brazil.

"We realise this is a small step toward making a positive impact on climate change," said Justin Osborne, national manager, Brand Strategy, Hyundai Motor America. "As we strive to improve, we are making a humble contribution to make the planet we all share a better place."

US automaker Ford, meanwhile, isn't quite going to Hyundai's lengths to plant new trees. But buyers of the company's new hybrid, the Fusion, will see green shoots sprouting inside the car, which goes on sale in early 2009.

A small screen next to the dashboard speedometer shows a tree trunk which magically grows branches and leaves when drivers are piloting the car at a fuel-efficient and steady pace. Put your pedal to the metal however, and the leaves disappear.