General Motors Chair Talks Trash, Debuts New Hummer

Rick Wagoner is talking garbage. And corn, and electricity, and fuel cells.

The General Motors chairman held forth on all things alternative Sunday at the North American International Auto Show, using GM's first press conference at the event as something of a bully pulpit on the oil crisis--let's call it what it is--and alternative sources of fuel. The event also served to showcase concept vehicles, under the Hummer and Saab brands.

There were a couple of odd juxtapositions on display--the first being the chief of GM warning that globally, humans are consuming 1,000 barrels of oil every second, and that the U.S. Department of Energy says we will need 70% more energy in 2040 than we are using today. It was also ironic to see the company roll out a new-concept Hummer vehicle during the same press conference, albeit one that runs on ethanol.

Said GM's North American marketing chief, Mark LaNeve: "You know we have come full circle when we roll out a Hummer that's fuel efficient." In addition to that vehicle, called the HX, GM debuted a Flex-Fuel Saab, 9-4X BioPower.



The opening act was, appropriately, a juggling act by a solo artist. "You know," said Wagoner, "like our opening act, the auto industry has a lot of balls in the air when it comes to the future of automotive propulsion."

For the past three years, the company has been promoting fuel-cell technology as a long-term goal with concepts like Autonomy, while--in the past two years--rolling out so-called "Flex Fuel" vehicles that can run on a mixture of ethanol and gasoline.

Reiterating GM's program of making ethanol a bridge to fuel cell vehicles, Wagoner said the company has inked a deal with a company called Coskata--a Warrenville, Ill.-based lab that, per Wagoner, can produce ethanol for less than $1 per gallon out of just about any form of refuse, from garbage to old tires. "There are already millions of flex-fuel vehicles on the road right now ... six million in the U.S. alone." He says GM will sell 25 Flex-Fuel models worldwide this year.

But he repeated what many have been saying since the company launched Flex Fuel in '06: there aren't enough service stations that sell ethanol to make it viable. "Less than 1% of the 170,000 gas stations in the U.S. sell E85."

"We must continue to build Flex-Fuel cars and trucks ... lots of them," he said. "And we must find a way to produce ethanol that is efficient, inexpensive and environmentally friendly."

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