Detroit Auto Show Goes Green

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If this year's Detroit Auto Show is any indication, the car industry has revved into full green mode. Picking up where it left off last year, the major manufacturers trotted out a litany of concept cars (and a few actual models), all promising to change the way we drive and how much time – and money – we spend at the pump.

Chrysler is leading the "green" charge this year, with three green concept cars –the Dodge ZEO, Jeep Renegade and Chrysler ecoVoyager – but they are hardly alone. Cadillac had the Provoq, which it claims will run on hydrogen fuel cells and Saturn countered with the Flextreme, a battery powered variation on last year's showstopper, the Chevy Volt.

And that's not mentioning new eco-friendly models on the showroom floor from Nissan, Ford and Toyota. No doubt about it, the leading manufacturers are publicly scrambling to out-green each other.

"When even Ferrari is talking green biofuels and ethanol, then you know the industry has really got something and is really going places," said David Cole, chairman of the Automotive Research Center, after the legendary Italian company unveiled its F430 Spider Biofuel.

The combination of continually rising prices at the pump and recently signed federal regulations mandating manufacturers increase the fuel efficiency by 40 percent by 2020 has forced the industry's hand, experts say, sparking a race to produce the first functional lines of electric and ethanol-powered cars.

GM and Toyota, the industry's lumbering giants, have poured resources into producing the first fully electric car, which both pledge will be available to consumers by 2010.

"Fully half of the market will be hybrid in the near future," says Aaron Bragman, an auto industry research analyst with Global Insight. "There are going to be a massive amount options for the consumer, from gas to electric, to hybrid to other technologies."

During the gas crunch of the 1970s, Volvo famously launched an ad campaign preaching that buyers should worry less about miles per gallon than "cars per year."

It seems an outdated notion today given the rush to alternative technologies, but personal finance experts note that it is still a valid concept, and one consumers should take to heart.

"The general premise is yes, clients want to go green," says Neil Elmouchi, president of Summit Financial Consultants in California, who is often asked by clients about buying hybrids or building eco-friendly homes.

Nonetheless, Elmouchi says, the price of gas has only had a modest effect on his clients' budgets.

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