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Red-hot green machines

Where manufacturers have previously pursued one environmental solution, most are now embracing multiple strategies to the high-profile problem.

GM chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner best summed up the industry's new multi-pronged environmental strategy as energy diversity.

He referred to alternate energy sources such as electricity, ethanol, biofuels, compressed natural gas, hydrogen and combinations of these working happily together in the same vehicle.

Wagoner says GM will also continue to seek improved efficiency from internal combustion petrol and diesel engines and expand its commitment to electric power.

GM will introduce a test fleet of 100 hydrogen-powered Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell vehicles in the US this year and 10 in Europe, he says.

Other car companies working on alternate powertrain solutions, such as Kia, also pledged to introduce test fleets, particularly for government evaluation.

The first of GM's new energy strategies to be introduced in Australia could be the extension of the Saab Biopower range from the 9-5 to the 9-3 model range, including vehicles running on 100 per cent biofuel.

GM has also developed a new cleaner turbo diesel V6 engine which could power the new Holden VE Commodore.

Wagoner confirmed that the 184kW 2.9-litre Italian-made engine would be compatible with the VE chassis, but he could not confirm its application in the Australian market. A GM Holden spokesman says the company will consider the engine.

Mercedes-Benz has started its push to clean up diesel emissions with a detox system called BlueTec. It is claimed to reduce nitrous-oxides (NOX) from the exhaust by up to 90 per cent compared with previous diesels.

The German firm has introduced BlueTec in its upper-luxury E320 sedan in the US market and will follow that up with three more models next year. The E320 and the follow-up R320 people mover, ML320 SUV and GL320 4WD will be released in Europe in 2008 and are expected here later in 2008 or early 2009.

Volkswagen showed a Passat and a Polo with the technology, the latter capable of a low 102g of CO2 and greatly reduced NOX.

Japanese makers are aggressively pushing hybrids. They are led in this by Lexus, which announced it is making more hybrids combining electric motors with petrol engine models than conventional petrol-fuelled vehicles.

Geneva launched the Lexus LS600h luxury saloon that it claims has the power of a V12 with the economy of a V6. It has a V8 petrol engine combined with an electric motor to deliver 327kW. Yet Lexus claims the lavishly-equipped saloon will get an average fuel consumption of only 9.5-l/100km while having a CO2 emission level of less than 220g.

Toyota showed a hybrid concept sedan, the Hybrid X, that is more a styling exercise than a mechanical marvel. Then there is the Toyota FT-HS hybrid sports car that combines a 3.5-litre petrol V6 with an electric motor; a car that doesn't ignore performance or style.

But while Europe is going diesel and Japan is leaning towards hybrids, there is some blurring of technologies.

Honda announced a NOX-depleting system similar to BlueTec and says it will be fitted to its diesel-powered cars. It plans to launch its new diesels within three years, first in the US and later in Europe and Australia.

At the same time, Honda says it will make its fuel-cell electric car available to selected buyers by next year, making it likely to be the world's first car maker to make a production fuel cell passenger car.

The new Honda, which uses hydrogen gas and air to produce electricity to power electric motors, is based on its long-standing FCX concept vehicle.

To keep its feet in all camps, Honda plans to introduce a small-car hybrid that is currently in concept form.

The Small Hybrid Sport shows that even hybrids can be fun and sexy.

Subaru unveiled its 2-litre turbo-diesel engine that will go into European models later this year but won't come to Australia until at least late 2008. It is Subaru's first diesel and has been devised to improve sales in diesel-crazy Europe.

Meanwhile, BMW and DaimlerChrysler have announced they will join forces to create a new hybrid system for the premium car segment.

Both companies plan on introducing the new technology into rear-wheel-drive models within the next three years.

A BMW spokesman says the technologies will be tailored to fit the specific character of the different vehicles.

And, two battery city cars were among the show oddities, including the Zebra which was painted like animal fur.

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