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Green Trumps Mean At Detroit Auto Show

The automakers showcase cutting-edge technology with plenty of concept cars and a respectable number of hybrid energy models for 2008 and beyond.
GM's 2008 full-sized Chevy Tahoe Hybrid on display, however, will be in full production this year, offering about 21 miles per gallon in the city. Fully equipped, it runs about $50,000. In 2009, GM will offer a Silverado Hybrid pick-up truck with a 26-gallon gas tank that will run the truck 500 miles before a fill-up is needed.

Over in Ford's area of the show, the automaker was getting attention for a candy-apple red Verve concept car on display. It's about time Ford came up with a cool concept for a small car. Verve features sleek side windows, a cute hump of a hood, an aggressive front grille, and its windshield seamlessly melds into a panoramic glass roof.

Buick tries to remake its image with the Riviera concept car.
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Buick tries to remake its image with the Riviera concept car

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Verve is the inspiration for new small cars Ford plans to start selling in 2010, which are designed to appeal to "'millennials', the fastest growing segment of the population, as well as their parents," according to Ford's press materials.

Clearly more suited for moms and dads is Ford's new Flex model, to debut this year. It's a six- or seven-person crossover that is clearly neither van nor SUV, but something entirely its own. It looks a little like a Honda Element, yet not quite so boxy.

The Flex on display at the auto show is retro brown with a cream-colored roof, sort of like an updated Woody. "The Flex has a really different, unique personality," said chief design engineer Richard Gresens, who stood by his vehicle. "There's so many vanilla things out there," he said, acknowledging that Ford has put out its own share of "vanilla" vehicles. But the Flex, he said, represents a "breakthrough" for Ford.

Like any big personality, you'll either love or hate the Flex. (This writer, always appreciative of big personalities, admits to strong attraction.) One nifty option is a minirefrigerator in the center back console that keeps drinks and food cold for a road trip, and can be set to freeze to keep the tykes' popsicles fresh on the way to the beach.

Ford, meanwhile, strived to demonstrate the possibilities in navigation with its Ford Explorer concept vehicle. A 3-D, glowing green compass, with topographical map, sits on top of the dashboard. The Explorer concept features Ford's "EcoBoost" technology, designed to deliver up to 20% better fuel economy and 15% fewer carbon dioxide emissions, and "builds upon today's affordable gasoline engine," according to Ford. The automaker plans to make 500,000 EcoBoost-equipped vehicles within the next five years.

There were a handful of just-for-the-fun-of-it concepts, too, like the Mazda Taiki. This little space-age monster featured gull-wing doors and rear quarter panels that shroud the wheels. When this writer jokingly asked the Japanese engineer standing by when she could buy it, the answer came in the form of a cruel chuckle, suggesting if-and-when something like the Taiki is available from Mazda, only those capable of handling it need apply.

This year's Detroit auto show doesn't disappoint on new concepts and styles, demonstrating imagination is alive and well in the auto industry. Style is a matter of personal choice, of course, and this writer got the biggest smile of the day when happening upon the 2008 Pontiac Solstice convertible roadster. Now this is a car you could love.

But if you're looking to get some definitive direction on the future of alternative energy, you won't find it here. Just plenty of efforts and concepts, and a respectable number of hybrid energy models for 2008 and beyond.