Carmakers Stress Green at Detroit Auto Show

Jan. 14, 2008
GM plans to introduce eight new hybrid models -- running on both fuel and electricity -- in the U.S. by the end of the year.

U.S. and foreign automakers are pushing environmentally friendly driving to the top of their agendas as they unveil at the world's biggest motor show a range of green innovations designed woo customers. "We need to develop alternative sources of propulsion," said General Motors chief Rick Wagoner during previews of the Detroit Motor Show which opens to the public from January 19 to January 27. With oil prices soaring, boosting use of alternative fuels is a "business necessity and an obligation for society" in a world that consumes 1,000 barrels of oil a second, said Wagoner. "The demand for energy around the world is growing faster than supply."

The Big Three automakers -- GM, Ford and Chrysler -- touted their commitment to green "concept cars" as consumers worry about the price of oil. GM presented the Cadillac Provoq, a battery-powered four-wheel drive and is to launch a test fleet of the 100 Chevrolet Equinox equipped with the battery technology within weeks. It also plans to introduce eight new hybrid models -- running on both fuel and electricity -- in the U.S. by the end of the year. Wagoner meanwhile stressed the importance of alternative "bio-fuels" in weaning drivers off oil. GM announced a partnership with renewable energy company Coskata to produce plant-based ethanol fuel for vehicles. The car maker unveiled a prototype of its sturdy Humvee -- typically associated with high fuel consumption -- that runs on E85, a blended fuel containing mainly ethanol. Meanwhile, Ford president Bill Ford announced "a global commitment" to become "leader in sustainability." Much as European automakers, Ford has introduced a new ecologically-friendly brand called Ecoboost that will be expanded in 2010 even to big pick-up trucks. Ford wants to sell 500,000 vehicles under this label in the next five years. Chrysler is also a player in this field, presenting prototypes of electric and hybrid vehicles.

The U.S. automobile market must now face double constraints imposed by constantly soaring gasoline prices and new government regulations that tightened fuel consumption standards, which should be reduced by 2020 by 20% to 40% compared to 1985. "The subject is coming quite seriously," said Mercedes vice president Herbert Kohler. "We had no such subject years ago."

The "green" fashion has reached even builders of luxury cars, with Ferrari presenting for the first time F430 Spider, a car that works on biofuel. It is a prototype. But "we have the technology and we are ready" if the market situation evolves, said Adam Rowley, vice president of Ferrari North America.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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