Ethanol Keys Auto Show

Alternative fuel vehicles and technology headlined the first day of the Detroit Auto Show.

The North American International Auto Show in Detroit, MI, opened on Jan. 13. Some of the top news included:

The New York Times reports that General Motors (GM), "eager to ensure a supply of fuel for the big fleet of flex-fuel ethanol-capable vehicles it is building, has joined the rush into alternative energy and invested in a company that intends to produce ethanol from crop wastes, wood chips, scrap plastic, rubber, and even municipal garbage."

According to Rick Wagoner, GM’s chairman and chief executive, the company has acquired an equity stake in Coskata, a start-up company in Warrenville, IL, that plans to make ethanol without using corn.

Putting money into the fuel business is new for car companies, says Jeffrey Leetsma, president of the Automotive Hall of Fame.

Michigan Business Review reports that GM also unveiled two concept cars — the Hummer HX and Saab 9-4x BioPower — linked to the company’s hopes to rapidly develop cellulosic ethanol technology. The two vehicles are capable of running on either regular gasoline or E85 fuel.

The introduction of a Hummer that runs on ethanol marks a shift in strategy for the brand toward an environmentally conscious design, says Mark LaNeve, GM’s vice president for sales and marketing. The vehicle features a flex-fuel V6 powertrain — the first Hummer to run on biofuels.

The Chicago Tribune reports that just hours after GM’s ethanol announcement, Toyota said it also is doing in-house research to produce ethanol from wood. President Katsuaki Watnabe also said Toyota would have a test fleet of hundreds of plug-in hybrids on the road in 2010, using lithium-ion battery technology. That’s the same year GM plans to begin building a production plug-in, the Chevrolet Volt, that can travel 40 miles on lithium-ion power, adds the Tribune.

Toyota will introduce two new hybrid vehicles — a Toyota and a Lexus — at next year’s Detroit show and will offer a "clean" diesel engine, one that uses low-sulfur fuel, on its full-size Sequoia and Tundra "soon," according to the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune goes on to report that Toyota and GM are battling for global auto sales leadership and are competing head-to-head for leadership in technology and image as makers of green vehicles.

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