Just weeks before the 2008 LA Auto Show, hybrid car and powertrain maker AFS Trinity is pulling out after saying that show management “muzzled” them by disallowing claims that their highly modified Saturn Vue plug-in hybrids can achieve 150 mpg.

In a statement, AFS Trinity said that “carmakers continue to seek tens of billions of taxpayer dollars, ostensibly to develop fuel-efficient vehicle technologies, but their conduct is evidence they are reluctant to embrace solutions they didn’t invent.”

In the show management’s defense, AFS Trinity’s 150 mpg claim is associated with a specific driving pattern which may or may not represent average driving conditions. If their hybrids are driven 40 miles per day for 6 days and then 80 miles on one day of the week, they use about 2 gallons to go 300 miles — which equals 150 mpg.

Because plug-in hybrids are such new technology, there is no agreed upon method to estimate fuel economy. Typically, a plug-in hybrid can drive up to 40 miles per day without needing to use any fuel, and beyond 40 miles the engine kicks in and charges a battery which then powers the car. If you only drive more than 40 miles once in a blue moon, you could have a rather ridiculous fuel economy of several thousand miles per gallon.

What, then, is an appropriate way to rate the fuel economy of these new types of cars? An email from LA Auto Show management to AFS Trinity states:

“We cannot approve this content . . . the mileage claim is of primary concern to us. Manufacturers are forced to quote EPA verified mpg numbers in their advertising, and . . . [your] 150-MPG figure is an estimation. A banner like this one in the lobby is likely to generate unfavorable reactions from manufacturers, which is something we will take action to avoid.”

AFS countered that no concept or prototype car at the auto show has its fuel economy certified by EPA prior to being exhibited, and told show management they would change their promotional materials to say that the 150 mpg claim is an “estimate.” In response, AFS Trinity was told that no materials would be accepted in any form that made a claim of 150 mpg and that the issue was “no longer a topic for further discussion.”

EPA has been struggling with how to rate the fuel economy of plug-in hybrids — the most recent being a spat between EPA and GM about how to rate the upcoming Chevy Volt. So, for the LA Auto Show management to claim that AFS Trinity is not using approved EPA methods to estimate fuel economy, they’re kind of off base, because even the EPA doesn’t really know how to rate fuel economy with some of the new alternative powered vehicles.

AFS Trinity says they will be exhibiting their extreme hybrids elsewhere in downtown LA during the auto show. I’ll be sure to go check their cars out while I’m down there to see what all the hoopla’s about.

Image Credit and Source: AFS Trinity Power Corporation