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Autos: Automakers are plugging into green energy
By Li Fangfang (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-02-09 08:01

Autos: Automakers are plugging into green energy

Chinese battery and electric car producer BYD Auto exhibits its plug-in hybrid technology at the North American International Auto Show last month in Detroit. [China Daily]

At the Beijing auto show last April, discussion about alternative-fuel technologies for future vehicles was hot and also varied as the world's automakers pursued strategies for nearly everything from hydrogen fuel cells to ethanol, hybrid, battery and natural gas.

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However, it was hard to imagine, following the near meltdown of the US auto industry that the 2009 Detroit auto show was also a gathering of electric vehicles and plans.

Almost every automaker at the show raced to unveil their strategies to create mass-produced electric cars within two or three years, making some wonder: after five years, who could be the ultimate winner in the electric auto industry?

Originally world's biggest mobile handset battery maker, Chinese BYD Auto, backed by billionaire investor Warren Buffett became the focus of Detroit show and hit the headlines in US newspapers for its electric cars, the first mass-produced model in the world which came to the China market in December, priced at around $22,000.

"We are confident of exporting our electric cars to the US market in 2011," said Li Zhuhang, general manager of BYD's auto export trade division.

He also said the BYD electric car will hit the European market "a little bit earlier than entering US market".

Li believes in the company's electric auto future, because "BYD is the first and only one who has 100 percent mastered the core technology of the battery".

However, the Shenzhen-based electric car developer is not the only one plugging into the green energy industry.

Next to the BYD display, General Motors, which was rescued from the collapse by the government loans on New Year's Eve, mobilized more than 600 employees to loudly cheer the debut of its Chevrolet Volt plug-in. The loud message was primarily to the US government saying: we are making progress on green technology to ensure the future of the US auto industry.

The Detroit-based company plans to build a US factory to assemble advanced lithium-ion batteries from LG Chem Ltd of South Korea for its Chevy Volt and put the sedan into mass production in 2010 for a price between $30,000 to $40,000.

Chrysler showed four electric or range-extending hybrid concept vehicles at the show, including the Dodge Circuit EV all-electric sports car, the Jeep Patriot, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited EV, and the Chrysler Town & Country EV range-extending vehicles.

The electric models will be brought to the market beginning next year through 2013, the year Chrysler is forecasting sales of electric cars will exceed 100,000 annually.

Another US auto giant Ford said it plans to begin the sales of an electric sedan in the US by 2011.

"We're employing a comprehensive approach to electrification that will tackle commercial issues such as batteries, standards and infrastructure," said Bill Ford Jr, the company's executive chairman.

Derrick Kuzak, Ford's group vice president of global product development, said the automaker expects to start selling 5,000 to 10,000 electric vehicles annually.

Toyota, which gained an edge on hybrid vehicles as the owner of the world's best seller Prius, also has the ambitions to sell an all-electric car by 2012 in Japan, Europe and the US, while Nissan, which was not represented at the Detroit show, has said it will sell an electric car in the US as early as 2010.

Even the luxury sedan provider Mercedes-Benz put BlueZero, a battery-only small electric prototype in the center of its stand. The Concept BlueZero, three vehicles with alternative electric drive systems that could travel up to 375 miles on a single charge, are on a production agenda starting from later this year to 2010.

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