Detroit Auto Show Gets off to an Electrifying Start

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He could be right. Some auto industry observers consider 2011 to be a pivotal year for hybrids and electrics. First of all, "a proliferation of choice", as Car and Driver editor-in-chief Eddie Alterman puts it, will ease consumers into the alternative fuel cars. GM's plug-in hybrid Volt goes up to 40 miles on electric power before a gas engine kicks in. Cars like Toyota's Prius and Ford's new C-Max hybrid drive on electric power up to a certain speed when the gas motor takes over, drives the car and recharges the battery. And now with the Leaf and Focus, consumers can go electric all the way, so long as they can find an outlet to recharge when the juice runs low.

Alterman says "2011 is a significant year in the development of the electric car. These are fully warranteed (sic), ready-for-primetime cars." He adds, "This is more than a fad. This is the future."

Such forecasts are music to the ears not only of Detroit's auto executives. The new cars rolled out today will mean thousands of new jobs for hard-hit U.S. autoworkers. Ford announced that it will build its new hybrids and Focus electrics at its huge Michigan Assembly plant, in Wayne, Mi. For all its new vehicle production, both gas and alternative, the company plans to hire 7,000 workers over the next two years.

The new cars General Motors rolled out at today's show, the Buick Verano and the Chevy Sonic, will mean 1,500 hundred jobs restored to a Michigan plant shuttered during the recession.

Detroit's annual industry exhibit and party has been a very low wattage affair for the past two years. Today, optimism may have been the most prominent rollout on display.

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