Planet Gore

But Will Green Cars Sell?

Detroit, Mich. — The disconnect between the inside of Cobo Convention Center’s Detroit Auto Show Press Preview and the outside this week has been jarring. While automakers rolled out electric concept cars they claimed will solve the global-warming crisis, East Detroit public schools cancelled classes as the thermometer barely crawled above zero and wind-chill factors plunged to dangerously low levels — 20 degrees below zero.

But when the public streams onto the show floor next week, the disconnect between what government wants and what consumers need will be almost as jarring.

In auto shows past, green concepts have always been a small piece while manufacturers rolled out the real crowd pleasers: Future designs for the Camaro muscle-car, or 16-cylinder Caddys pushing the limits of engine technology, or daily haulers like minivans chocked full of every imaginable household comfort from DVD screens to portable tables.

The public ached in anticipation of getting DVDs in their minivans and ogled 16-cylinder Caddies they knew they could ever afford.

But this year, the green concepts dominate the show as Washington finances GM and Chrysler’s future and carmakers maneuver for press kudos about their plans for a post-oil transportation future.

Mean while, the public will be left to wonder how these concepts are relevant to their lives. Sure, some of the sexy, expensive new electrics like the $90,000 Fisker Karma will draw envious looks (though many may wonder why they’d shell out 90 large for a supercar with a top speed of just 125 mph).

But the larger disconnect will be with the daily drivers like the Chevy Volt.

Questions–not anticipation–will abound. Can I afford a $40,000 small sedan? Where do I plug it in when the battery runs out of juice? Can I remember to keep the gas tank filled, so that when the battery does run out of juice, the backup gas engine will still kick in? Will the gas go bad in my tank if I don’t use it for a while? Will the lithium ion battery overheat like the one in my laptop? Will it be as unpredictable?

Washington promises that green concepts are the future of transportation, but politicians don’t have to follow through in the consumer marketplace.

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