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Green cars on the rise but consumer interest still lagging

Green vehicles stole the show in Detroit this year but their success depends on consumers, who are still shying away from their higher price tags.

New models are starting to proliferate following the launch of the all-electric Nissan Leaf and the rechargeable hybrid Chevrolet Volt in 2010.

Hybrid pioneer Toyota meanwhile presented three new models alongside its trailblasing Prius line and is preparing an electric version of its 4x4 RAV-4 for 2012 in partnership with California’s Tesla.

The number-two US manufacturer Ford has also rolled out a new range of compact green vehicles, including the Focus Electric, its first all-electric model, as well as two hybrids, the C-MAX Hybrid and the C-MAX Energi, and the Ford Vertrek, a compact utility vehicle.

China’s BYD outlined three new electric models, while postponing the US launch of its E6 to 2012.

Chrysler did not put a green car on its stage this year, but is preparing an all-electric version of the Fiat 500 which will be launched in the US next year.

“As fuel prices continue to increase, this is going to be really preferred by families,” Ford president and chief executive officer Alan Mulally said.

US sales of hybrid vehicles declined by 2.4 per cent last year and they made up just 2.8 per cent of the market, according to the Autodata research firm.

And a study published by JD Power and Associates at the end of 2010, entitled Drive green 2020: More hope than reality, was less than optimistic about future demand.

“Combined global sales of hybrid electric vehicles and battery electric are expected to total 5.2 million units in 2020 or just 7.3 per cent of the 70.9 million passenger vehicles forecasted to be sold worldwide by that year,” it said.

For Ford’s Mulally, the adoption of green vehicles by consumers will mainly depend on improving battery technology.

“Every year we have to improve this technology. We have to improve the size of the batteries, lower their weight, their cost, because these are still very expensive,” he said.

“The other thing is the infrastructure for electricity, because we have to be able to operate the vehicle efficiently.”

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