Greenness Is Overtaking Muscle-Car Culture At Shows

by , Nov 16, 2007, 5:00 AM
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Automakers showed their verdancy at the L.A. Auto Show, one of the U.S. International shows that has tended, in past years, to focus on muscle-car culture. News of powerful vehicles with big engines and bigger gas tanks was overshadowed -- perhaps for the first time - by news of new powertrain programs and think tanks.

With a backdrop of smoldering hills and record crude oil prices, General Motors, Honda and Ford were among automakers that used the show as a platform to announce multi-year programs.

Ford, whose CEO this week announced that it would create an in-house brain trust to study sustainability, unveiled a blueprint for sustainability, climate change and energy security. The centerpiece of the program to reduce greenhouse gases and waste, and boost efficiency, is a new generation of smaller, turbo-charged engines the company says will garner fuel savings of 10% to 20%. The engine will be loaded into smaller Ford vehicles, the first of which is the Lincoln MKS.

"We are focusing on sustainable technology solutions that can be used not for hundreds or thousands of cars - but for millions of cars, because that is how Ford can truly make a difference," said the company's CEO Alan Mulally in a speech at the show.

With three hybrids in the U.S. market, Ford says it will also make half of its production capable of running on alternative fuels by 2012. The Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker will introduce the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Mercury Milan Hybrid later in 2008.

Ford says next month it will roll out a plug-in Ford Escape Hybrid for use by its study partner, Southern California Edison. Ford and SCE are working on business and logistical feasibility of commercialization of plug-in hybrids.

Cross-town rival GM, which said at the auto show that its largest division, Chevrolet, will lead GM's fuel-technology efforts, unveiled the 2009 Chevrolet Silverado 2-Mode Hybrid full-size pickup. The company also unveiled the hybrid version of the Chevrolet Malibu sedan and the 2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 subcompact hatchback.

Also on tap, a partnership with the Walt Disney Co. in which 10 Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell vehicles will be deployed as shuttles on Disney properties in California. The company also announced that it will, in fact, build a production model of the Chevrolet Beat concept, one of the three mini-car concepts it unveiled at the New York International Auto Show this year.

General Motors launched a web campaign asking consumers worldwide to vote on which of the three vehicles deserved to see the light of a production line. Per GM, 1.8 million people worldwide chose that model, but GM VP Bob Lutz says the company is mulling building the Chevrolet Groove, another of three cars.

"Because there is no single solution for every consumer in every part of the world," says Lutz, "we believe we can make the biggest impact through the broad portfolio of Chevrolet."

At the just-concluded Miami Auto Show, GM unveiled a new hybrid-version of its Cadillac Escalade.

This week, Honda unveiled, if not a full-out production version of a lithium-ion fuel-cell vehicle, at least a formal brand name for the technology, FCX Clarity, that the company says gives fuel-cell vehicles a level of performance and range comparable with traditional vehicles.

Honda was at pains to explain that the new vehicle is not a reiteration of its FCX fuel cell concept that has been something of a limited test vehicle around L.A. during the past couple of years. Dan Bonawitz, VP/corporate planning and logistics, says it won't be an experimental vehicle but a real-world production car.

"But, please understand, we are absolutely committed to a three-year program of customer deliveries aimed at long-term and continuous use that will put our technology to the only test that really matters ... how it works with real people in the real world," he says.

The Torrance, Calif.-based automaker says the new version's battery pack is half the size and 40% lighter than the current FCX and will get 68 miles per gallon combined fuel economy.

Bonawitz says Honda will target Californians who live near hydrogen refueling stations in Santa Monica, Torrance and Irvine, "and whose driving habits support regular, daily use and a variety of driving conditions."

Toyota Motor Sales, which has focused on hybrids for the past four years, focused on traditional vehicles and the second-generation Sequoia full-size sport utility vehicle.

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