December 1, 2021

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Unique Car

It’s electric inside Seattle’s auto show: Ford F-150 Lightning, BMW iX and driving Bill Gates’ Porsche

The Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck is supposed to speed more Americans’ willingness to give up on gas-powered vehicles. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

You know progress is being made in the move toward increased production and adoption of electric vehicles when you visit an auto show and have to ask which cars and trucks are gas powered.

The Seattle International Auto Show has returned to the Lumen Field Event Center with more than 350 new cars, trucks, SUVs and crossovers. A big part of the mix is the electrification of so much of it — and the fact that the stuff just looks good and is ready to perform at a level that is sure to turn heads.

“The overall theme that’s happening at this show is that the mainstream manufacturers have started to introduce seriously competitive electric vehicles,” said Tom Voelk, spokesperson for the show, a New York Times auto journalist and host of the YouTube channel Driven.

Rattling off names such as Ford, BMW, Nissan, KIA and others boasting increased range and faster charging capability, Voelk said, “This is where it all starts. It’s all real. It isn’t vaporware, it’s stuff that’s actually coming to market. So it’s kind of exciting in that way.”

The auto show opened Thursday and runs through the weekend. GeekWire roamed the floor, looked under the hood and got behind the wheel — keep reading for some of the highlights.

Trucks, trucks and more trucks

(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Former Seattle Mariner Jay Buhner, pitchman for a pumped-up version of the rugged 4×4, might actually be at home among some of the vehicles on display across the street from where he used to play baseball.

It’s a big deal that Seattle landed the Ford F-150 Lightning, which is only traveling to select shows such as Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Billed by some as the truck of the future, Ford is bringing electric to its class of pickups that account for the top-selling line of vehicles in the U.S.

“It hits at the heart of what Americans want,” Voelk said. “A lot of EVs look like spaceships, or they’re trying to look like some sort of consumer electronics. The F-150 looks like a Ford F-150. I firmly believe that people don’t want their cars to look like a spaceship. They just want their cars to work. And they want it to work the way their gasoline-powered car works.”

The New York Times says a lot is riding on the truck and that if Ford can turn it into a big seller it could speed the move to mass adoption of electric vehicles.

(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

“The Lightning not only has really good range and charges up quickly, but actually adds more utility, the kinds of things that pickup owners would want to do. You can power your house off of it,” Voelk said of the ability to use a fully charged truck battery to power a house for three days.

“When people realize that electric vehicles aren’t just simply about saving the planet — they’re actually really fun to drive, they’re more convenient, they’re more useful — that’s when people go, ‘Oh, I don’t just settle for this. I actually want this,’” he added.

The Lightning was joined by some burly and some less-burly (gas-powered) competition from an assortment of manufacturers, including Toyota, Jeep and Hyundai, whose Santa Cruz is like an SUV with the rear end lopped off for a truck bed.

The desert-rated Jeep Gladiator Mojave. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
Toyota playing to the Seattle crowd with a Seahawks-branded 4Runner. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
The Black Diamond version of the new Ford Bronco. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
Auto show attendees check out the cargo space beneath the “truck” bed in the Hyundai Santa Cruz. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Move over, Tesla?

The BMW iX electric SUV. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Everyone is playing catch-up when it comes to meeting the styling, performance and popularity of Tesla. The BMW iX could be a contender.

The all-electric SUV is not on dealership floors and only available for pre-order for delivery in June. One show attendee who was hopping out of the car said he’d been driving Teslas for five years and had already ordered his iX.

One highlight of the car is a “self-repairing” front grille which sits in front of camera tech, radar and other sensors. BMW says a polyurethane coating “reduces the kidney grille’s susceptibility to damage and the self-healing effect of its surface can repair minor scratches, within 24 hours at room temperature or through a five-minute supply of warm air.”

Oh, and the iX goes 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds.

(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
Inside the BMW iX. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Inside, the car is one of many that I sat in where screen time has most definitely arrived. Remember when it used to be a big deal if your new car had a USB charging port somewhere in the center console? Then all of a sudden Tesla stuck a giant tablet in the middle of the dash. And now, sleek and curved screens span the width of many car cabins, from driver to passenger side.

“There’s a real fundamental change to what’s happening inside the car,” Voelk said. “Because not only do we look at our cars as transportation, but they’re a living space. We spend a lot of time in our cars. There’s a whole push to make the interfaces, not just easy to use, but larger and more entertaining.”

Test driving Bill Gates’ Porsche

Porsche’s frozen berry-colored Taycan. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

I’d never driven a Porsche before Thursday. What better way to start than with the electric Porsche Taycan — the car that Bill Gates chose over Tesla, drawing the ire of Elon Musk in the process.

Gates last year called his first electric car “very, very cool” and said he was “enjoying it a lot.”

Citing the speed, styling, performance and more, Tom Voelk, who has driven everything, said the Taycan is the car he would buy if money was not an option.

“My wife knows,” Voelk said. “If we win the lottery …”

Oh, you wouldn’t take a selfie in a Porsche? (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
I’ve owned a lot of cars. None had this view. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

The base model, which I drove, starts around $80,000. A Turbo is $150,000 and the top-end Turbo S — which will go 0 to 60 mph in 2.6 seconds — is $185,000.

Needless to say, I didn’t test the 0 to 60 speed baseline. Driving through Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood in pouring rain with a Porsche rep in the passenger seat felt like a good time to keep it under 40.

Maintaining that speed in an electric Porsche which I will never own was the hardest driving of my life. As a longtime driver and car lover, it was like I was starving, someone set a whole pizza in front of me and said, “Please enjoy the smell, but don’t eat any.”

Each tap of the gas pedal pulled me into the seat. I’ve driven muscle cars which provide an equal noise response to that acceleration. Getting that thrust without the noise in an electric sports car was totally futuristic.

And after 15 minutes I had to park, back in the present.

Keep scrolling for more images from the Seattle International Auto Show. More details here about times and ticket info

(GeekWire Photos / Kurt Schlosser)
Nissan Ariya electric SUV.
KIA EV6 electric crossover.
Jeep Grand Wagoneer — deluxe accommodations for you and three more families.

Subaru’s new line of Forester and Outback models play to Seattle’s love for the outdoors.
Subaru Wilderness Outback.
Subaru is also sponsoring a dog adoption zone at the auto show. Just take our money.
EV what? Dodge Challenger V8 engine. Where’s the power cord?
Ford Shelby Super Snake, hissing at lesser cars.
Bentley, Lamborghini and more Kardashian parking.