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Santa Monica Alternative Vehicle Expo Features Test Drives

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Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Hector Gonzalez
Special to The Lookout

September 20, 2015 -- Any L.A. car commuter curious about the latest in hybrid alternatives will find a trip into Santa Monica this weekend well worth the drive.

From Audie's 2016 plug-in A3-etron to Volkswagon's all-electric e-Golf, carmakers have thundered onto the electric bandwagon in a big way, bringing 24 of their newest hybrid and alternative vehicles to the City's 10th annual AltCar Expo held Friday and Saturday.

Kicking off with opening remarks from Mayor Kevin McKeown and Los Angeles County Mayor Mike Antonovich Friday morning at 8:30 a.m. in the Santa Monica Civic Center, the event continues until 5 p.m. with displays and free test drives of the newest in personal alternative transportation, from all-electric subcompacts to hybrid SUVs to single-person two-wheelers.

Marking its first decade, the expo started as a small grassroots event that mainly featured Honda's GX, which was the only passenger-built natural gas vehicle on the market in 2006, said Tina Kaye, a  publicist for the event.

“Since then, the alternative fuel market has soared to include electric, hybrid, natural gas and  hydrogen vehicles, as well as bikes and other single-passenger choices,” she said.

With more than 23,300 public electric vehicle charging stations now spread out across the nation, “now is the time to invest in a gasoline-free future and support cleaner-burning fuel technology,” said Kaye.

In addition to vehicles, panel discussions on both days will feature state and local expert discussing a variety of related topics and issues.

Pre-sold and not open to the public, the Government, Fleet, and Industry Conference on Friday features Tyson Eckerle of the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development speaking on California's regulatory requirements, Cap and Trade, and the latest fleet trends.

Automated cars, Uber, and other subjects will be covered in discussions Friday featuring Tony Seba of Stanford University, state Sen. Ben Allen and Assemblyman Richard Bloom, both D-Santa Monica.

The Expo continues Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with free public programming, including a panel discussion from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on energy and sustainability in Santa Monica featuring actor Ed Begley and others.

It will be followed at 2:30 p.m. by a premier showing of the documentary, “My Lunch With the President,” followed by a panel discussion with director Kelly R. Olson and others.

But the highlight of both days will the chance to check out at least two dozen alt-vehicle offerings from the world's top carmakers, including a few debuts, organizers said. Most will be available to test drive.

Among the must-sees is Mercedes-Benz's B-Class Electric Drive, the company's first entree into the all-electric vehicle market since 1906. With a range of 87 miles, the B-Class Electric Drive fits five and comes with folding rear seats. It starts at $41,450.

Another unique display will be BMW's new i3, which features sporty styling on the outside and a “green” inside. More than 25 percent of the car's interior is made from “renewable raw and recycled materials,” according to BMW, which reveals a little about how far the carmaker is willing to go to attract eco-minded motorists.

With a wide option package and a traveling range of 81 miles when the two-cylinder gas motor kicks in, the i3 starts at $42,400 and goes up from there, depending on the extras.

Also worth checking out are several types of single-person vehicles, including the Qbot Green Transporter, a two-wheel vehicle similar to a Segway but smaller and more compact. All electric and capable of doing 10 mph, the transporters start at $2,350.

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