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Automakers Are Plugging in Green Energy

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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.

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 US$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 US$30,000 to US$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.

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