AltCar Expo 2012 (File photo)


The 12th Annual AltCar Expo returns to Santa Monica this weekend providing locals with one of the nation’s best opportunities to learn about and test drive cars that will determine the future of the automotive industry.

The event is held at the Civic Center has become known as the most comprehensive showcase for non-gasoline vehicles.

“The two-day event is free to attend and brings together in one place a variety of brands, technology and manufacturers that are continuing the alternative fuel vehicle movement including electric, hydrogen fuel cell, hybrid and natural gas,” said organizers.

The Ride & Drive feature will allow the public to test drive cars like Chevrolet Bolt EV, Chevrolet Volt, Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, Honda Clarity Electric, Kia Soul EV. Additional vehicles at Expo include: CSE Hyundai Tuscon Fuel Cell, Honda Clarity PHEV, Kia Optima PHEV, Nissan Leaf EV, Nissan Rogue Hybrid, Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell and Toyota Prius Hybrid. There will also be an area to test ride Breeze Bikes and electric bikes.

Expo Cofounder Christine Dzilvelis said the one-stop-shop is unique among automotive events.

“This is probably the only opportunity in the United States to go for free and in one place see just about every alternative technology vehicle on the market,” she said.

She said the market for alternative fuel vehicles has evolved in the past 12 years and the Expo has grown from a parade of one-off or third-party modified vehicles to a showcase for the future of the automotive industry. The Expo now draws every major manufacturer and while it has a reputation for revealing new products, she said the most important aspect is consumer education.

“The bigger story is that I think the majority of Californians and certainly the country, have no idea that all this infrastructure is laying in and more and more people are buying these cars,” she said. “This is happening and they don’t understand how this is going to affect them in the short term.”

The public portion includes access to product specialists who can provide information in a stress free environment without the demands of dealership sales.

“You can come and in an hour and a half, it’s so easy to drive so many cars and see just how plausible these vehicles are,” she said.

City of Santa Monica Sustainability Manager Dean Kubani said the City is a great home for the Expo due to the historically high demand for alternative vehicles among residents and the City’s longstanding commitment to alternative fuels. The Big Blue Bus system already runs on non-fracked natural gas and the city’s vehicles are electric.

“Because there’s so much interest here, it makes sense to have the auto manufactures want to showcase them here,” he said.

Kubani said the Expo has succeed in bringing alternative vehicles out from the fringes and to mainstream customers. He said the hands-on element can help consumers overcome fears or misconceptions about the products.

“There’s been a lot of evolution in the (electric vehicle) market recently, particularly with increased range which in the past has been an issue, which has kept people from considering them,” he said. “That’s changing and now they have much longer ranges.”

Fred Ligouri a spokesman for Chevrolet, said the company will be at the Expo highlighting their new Bolt EV. The all electric car has a range of 234 miles per charge and retails for $37,495. He said Chevy designed the car to tackle the perceived challenges to adopting an electric lifestyle and in addition to providing a range that more than meets most customer’s needs, the new vehicle address concerns over pricing and performance.

State and Federal incentives can drop the price of a Volt below $30,000 and the car’s performance stats rival those of the entry level, conventional engine Camero.

With competitive range, performance and price handled, Ligouri said the biggest obstacle to sales is just a lack of awareness by potential buyers.

“It becomes a question of education,” he said. “When the buying public is informed about the capabilities of long range electrics, or electrics in general, they can figure out if they can make the vehicle work for them.”

The Expo is a platform for all non-gasoline/diesel technologies and while electric vehicles will be part of the mix, so will other kinds of fuel alternatives like Hydrogen fuel cells.

Ligouri said Chevy has focused on electric vehicles because it’s a fuel source readily available to consumers.

“We feel that battery electrics help enable greater alternative vehicle adoption because the resources to refuel or recharge are available at your home, your business,” he said. “It’s that electricity is rather ubiquitous, it’s a matter of how you harness it to put it on the car, but it’s there.”

Honda spokeswoman Natalie Kumaratne said the company looked at the same challenges and has developed a line of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Hydrogen stations are less common than electrical outlets but said the technology makes up for the scarcity in convenience and drive time. Consumers pump the fuel as they would regular gas and with more than 360 miles per tank, consumers don’t have to visit the pump as often.

“It’s really the infrastructure,” she said. “As that grows and it’s healthy, consumers will be able to latch onto this kind of vehicle.”

She said events like the Expo are important for the industry because they provide an opportunity for consumers to access the vehicles and see there’s nothing to fear with a new technology.

“It’s really important for consumers to get behind the wheel and drive the car,” she said.

From realizing groceries will fit in the trunk to understanding what the actual engine looks like, she said in person experiences are the best way to gain an understanding of the cars.

“People need to pop the hood and just see what it will look like,” she said. “A lot of these things you will see in the car, we have grown up with, just with a fuel cell. There are similarities that you’re already used to but with new technology and the ability to drive clean.”

The AltCar Expo will be held Friday and Saturday, September 15 & 16 at the Santa Monica Civic Center, 1855 Main Street. The free Expo and Ride & Drive will be open from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. An Industry and Fleet Conference (requires pre-registration) will be held on Friday from 9 a.m. – 2:45 p.m. Visit for more information.

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...