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Detroit Auto Show Day 1: Plug-ins, Hybrids & Protesters, Oh My

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UPDATED Automakers got their green on today at Day 1 of the North American International Auto Show at Detroit’s Cobo Center, unveiling new hybrid concepts and announcing manufacturing plans for electric vehicles. Government officials and citizen protesters showed up too, respectively issuing praise for the industry’s efforts to boost fuel economy and criticism for the investment of tax dollars to bail out car companies. We’ve sorted through the avalanche of announcements coming out of the event today and put together some of the most interesting schemes, photos, statements and happenings from the Detroit Auto Show so far.

Toyota’s FT-CH Hybrid Concept and Plans for a Prius Family: After releasing only teaser images ahead of the Detroit Auto Show of its Prius-spawn, the FT-CH dedicated hybrid concept, Toyota finally pulled back the sheets on the new model today. The company also confirmed plans for a larger family of hybrids under the Prius brand and said the FT-CH represents just one model under consideration for production in the Prius lineup.

Toyota has designed the FT-CH for city driving, and claims it weighs less and gets better fuel economy than the Prius. The concept car is 22 inches shorter than the Prius in length, while keeping about the same width. “Within the next 10 to 20 years,” Toyota Motor Sales President Jim Lentz said in a statement today, the world will reach “peak oil” and “enter a period where demand for all liquid fuels will exceed supply.”

Ford’s New Focus: Ford (s F) announced today that it will start manufacturing a plug-in version of the Focus in 2011 at a plant in Wayne, Mich. The automaker also snagged both the North American Car of the Year and North American Truck of the Year Awards, for the Ford Fusion Hybrid and the Ford Transit Connect van. This is the fourth time a hybrid has won in the 17 years of the car award, notes the Wheels blog. (See update below on Ford’s Monday afternoon announcement about new EV investments.)

General Motors’ Volt Rollout and Upcoming Plug-in Converj: We already knew California drivers would be among the first to get their hands on the Chevy Volt when it launches in select markets later this year. Now General Motors (s GM) has named a second lead market for its upcoming plug-in model: Michigan.

GM also confirmed plans today to build a plug-in version of the Cadillac Converj in 2013 or later based on the Voltec system. The automaker envisions the model as a high-end luxury vehicle with about the same 40-mile electric range as the Volt.

Honda’s 2011 CR-Z Hybrid Debut: Honda unveiled today the production version of its CR-Z hybrid, a sporty two-seater scheduled for U.S. sales in late summer 2010. The model has three different driving modes: Sport, Normal and Economy, which prioritizes fuel efficiency and reduces how much load the air conditioning system puts on the engine. Honda has also included the Eco Guide (also deployed in the Honda Insight), a tool for drivers to get feedback on the road about how their driving behavior affects fuel economy.

Ray LaHood’s Hurrah for the Bailout, Big 3: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood offered what sounds to me like over-the-top praise for automakers and the Obama administration’s move to bail them out in his talk at Detroit’s Cobo Hall this morning. “This [the bailout] was a good investment of taxpayer dollars,” he said. LaHood cheered the auto industry’s agreement to tighter fuel economy standards over the next six years, the results of the cash for clunkers program and automakers’ commitment to building hybrids.

“The automobile industry is manufacturing products that people want to drive,” he said. In particular, as the Wheels blog notes, LaHood named GM’s Chevy Volt as “obviously the kind of green car Americans are looking for,” and said Chrysler is “as innovative and creative as I’ve ever seen.”

Bailout Protesters Take to the Streets: A few dozen workers staged a protest outside the Detroit event “in favor of job creation and against financial-sector bailouts,” Reuters reports. On a nearby street corner, a smaller group came out to protest all bailouts. Reuters quotes one participant saying, “We don’t need to be spending billions of taxpayer dollars on helping companies that should be reorganizing on their own.” Another protester said the Obama administration should focus on a “jobs recovery bill,” helping turn Michigan’s old auto factories into manufacturing facilities for wind turbines and other green energy equipment.

Update: Ford has just announced that it plans to invest $450 million in Michigan for production of electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles. The company expects to create up to 1,000 new jobs through its electrification efforts, in part by moving battery pack production to Michigan from current facilities in Mexico.

Ford’s Group Vice President for Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering, Sue Ciscke told us in an interview this afternoon that the move was made possible in large part by funding and incentives from the Michigan state government as well as the Department of Energy. Cischke said the company is working on a new hybrid and plug-in hybrid for 2012, but declined to elaborate on details for those models beyond Ford’s plans to base them on the new C-segment platform and the company’s interest in providing “the most versatility to the customer.” Cischke said the cars”may be a totally different vehicle from the Focus.”

Ray LaHood image courtesy of the North American International Auto Show; bottom image courtesy of Flickr user NotionsCapital; other photos courtesy of the automakers.

6 Responses to “Detroit Auto Show Day 1: Plug-ins, Hybrids & Protesters, Oh My”

  1. Detroit has a chance to show the nation and the world that they’re listening to the cries for greater fuel efficiency! The Ford Focus, the Toyota FT-CH, and the Honda CR-Z hybrid are all great eco-friendly cars of the sort Americans are now demanding: let’s hope for more like them as the Auto Show continues.

    If you are interested in hybrids, fuel cells, or any other green technologies, check out It has hundreds of case studies on emerging green tech and the largest b2b green directory on the web.