It will not be a typical "kick the tires" weekend at the car lot.
This lot will sprawl across Bostons City Hall Plaza, and the products on display will be aimed at people with as little as a few hundred dollars to spend as well as those curious to see feats of engineering that cost millions of dollars.
Indeed, the scene at the fifth annual Alt-Wheels Alternative Transportation & Energy Festival tomorrow and Saturday will contrast sharply with the surrounding exhaust-filled streets and nearby Big Dig tunnels. The vehicles at the festival will be powered by natural gas, ethanol, propane, diesel fuel, electricity, and humans. Hybrid cars -- some gas/electric, others hydrogen/electric -- will be well represented, too.
Exhibitors include major auto manufacturers, related businesses, research institutions, individual tinkerers, and activist groups. Their focus is reducing energy consumption in the United States.
Organizers say the idea is to raise environmental awareness, a theme they hope to reinforce through interactive exhibits that are part of the festival's "Energy Freedom Trail." The trail will be lined with information and exhibits about energy-saving homes, tree planting, recycling, smart driving, and even walking.
Admission is free to the event, which last year drew 20,000 visitors.
Two of the main exhibits are sponsored by corporations not usually associated with grass-roots movements like AltWheels -- Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. Ford is bringing its plug-in electric-hydrogen car, the HySeries Edge, a million-dollar-plus concept with a combined battery and fuel cell range of 225 miles.
"Youre looking at a system that can be viable and renewable," MujeebIjaz, a manager of fuel cell engineering at Ford, said of the HySeries. It can also help "increase public awareness of what car companies are doing," he added.
On the other end of the spectrum are individual exhibitors like Colin McCullough of Sutton, who will be showing off his 2000 Volkswagen Beetle that runs on recycled vegetable oil. McCullough said he has chalked up 55,000 "veggie miles." After looking at the fantastic and expensive concepts on display, he said, festival goers can look at vehicles like his to see the reality "of cars that we actually drive, that actually work."
Alison Sander, founder of Alt-Wheels, said its important for the festival to include a wide range of exhibitors, from corporations to backyard entrepreneurs.
"One of the reasons we got to be the biggest on the East Coast -- and maybe in the country -- is because we build a very broad coalition," she said.
AltWheels came out of Sanders experience in the threatened Ecuadorian rain forest about six years ago. She was visiting at a time when Ecuadors government decided to sell oil rights in the forest. After returning to the United States, she began working with a group of six people who believed transportation issues in this country have a global effect. The effort has now grown to include more than 100 volunteers, 80 festival cohosts, 44 sponsors, and, this year, more than 150 exhibits.
Sander said the United States, with 6 percent of the worlds population, produces 43 percent of its mobile emissions pollution.
The festival was held at the Lars Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline for the first three years. Only about 1,000 people attended the inaugural event. Last year, it moved to City Hall Plaza.
Manufacturers and large research institutions -- such as the Society of Automotive Engineers International -- belong at a grassroots festival, Sander said, because "they are producing some of the most cutting-edge technologies."
Besides Fords HySeries Edge, the festival will highlight Chevrolets full-size hybrid SUV, the Tahoe Hybrid, as well as the Chevrolet Equinox hydrogen fuel cell SUV, and Honda's natural gas-powered Honda Civic GX.
Some ready-to-drive cars will be available either through auction or special sales -- Ford, Honda, and Toyota are among the companies offering discounts during the festival.
But Sander said environmentally aware groups far off the paths trod by major automakers will get an equal share of the spotlight at the festival. Those organizations include the Boston Urban Forest Coalition, whose aim is to increase tree planting in the city; eGo Vehicles, a Somerville company that makes electric mopeds; and Green Grease Monkey, a Boston group that specializes in converting diesel vehicles to run on vegetable oil.
When it comes to fixing the global emissions problem caused by vehicles, Sander said, "No one has the mandate."
Royal Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.