The second day of the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show opened with a stark reminder that despite the electric cars and alternative-fuel concepts in attendance, petroleum products are set to maintain their dominance as the fuel of the foreseeable future.

The diesel-powered Volkswagen Jetta TDI was named 2009 Green Car of the Year for being an affordable, functional car that can meet California’s strict emissions standards and still deliver 41 mpg on the highway, the same as the tiny Smart Fortwo. Not long ago it would’ve been unthinkable that a diesel could win such an award, but advances in catalytic converters and a new system for eliminating soot from the exhaust help make the Jetta TDI as clean as a gasoline-powered automobile.

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The car is a stark contrast to the wildest concept on the show floor, Honda’s FC Sport. With the looks of a Civic designed by a consortium of Lamborghini and George Lucas, the three-seat coupe places the driver in the center of the car in front of a zero-emissions, hydrogen-powered fuel cell. The technology is lifted from the Honda FCX Clarity sedan that is currently being tested by consumers in Los Angeles, so it's feasible something like it could become a reality if the market demands it.

At the stand next to the cartoon character car that is the Nissan Cube, Kia unveiled its own version of a building block on wheels, the more subdued Soul. Not much new here, but the squareback packs a lot of room into its compact size. Features like iPod controls on the steering wheel and Bluetooth connectivity should appeal to its young target market when it arrives in showrooms at the end of 2009.

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If there were was an award given out in memory of Vincent Van Gogh, the Spyker C8 Aileron would win hands down. The exotic car from Holland sporting an aeronautically inspired art deco design that would look right at home in Flash Gordon’s driveway. The Dutch automaker’s latest model is a bit larger than previous efforts from the brand in order to fit an automatic transmission into it for the American market.

The Ferrari California dropped its retractable hardtop for the first time in its namesake state and with good reason. With a softer look and feel than the more serious performance cars in its lineup, the Italian automaker is clearly targeting the 2+2 seater at well-heeled American females, if there are any left to buy them.

With the North American International Auto Show less than two months away, the industry is waiting and wondering if everyone will make it to Detroit’s Cobo Hall safe and sound.

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