General Motors is expected to unveil a fuel cell hydrogen concept car at the Consumer Electronics Show today; it will be the first time a company has introduced an automobile at the show that typically highlights the newest televisions, computers and portable gadgets.
GM CEO Rick Wagoner will announce the company's development of the Cadillac Provoq Fuel Cell concept car in a speech to the thousands of industry executives gathered in Las Vegas this week for the world's largest technology trade show.
The Cadillac Provoq is GM's fifth fuel cell concept car, according to the company. Powered both by hydrogen and an electric battery, the car can get 300 miles per hydrogen fuel-up. It will feature other green technologies such as a solar panel on the roof to power interior accessories including lights, energy-saving tires from Michelin and recycled and recyclable materials used to create the vehicle.
For Cadillac general manager Jim Taylor, releasing a car at CES instead of a car show was a no-brainer.
"The audience that comes here and participates in this show is by and large completely different than the audience that attends the auto show circuit, so it gets our message out to a totally different community," Taylor told ABCNEWS.com. "A lot of the rap that goes with the car business and with Detroit isn't really fair. It's kind of a misperception that it's kind of a big smoke stack industry. The auto industry is extremely high tech."
In addition to the concept car, GM will also be showcasing its self-driving robot car Bob, which won a Department of Defense-funded challenge in November 2007, and its fuel cell Equinox, which the company gave to 100 families to test for three months in Southern California, Washington, D.C., and New York.
Wagoner's much-buzzed-about speech, the first time an auto industry executive has spoken at CES, is the most visible sign of an unprecedented automotive invasion that swept this year's show, with more car products and cars flooding the trade show floor.
That show trend is merely reflective of convergence already taking place out on the road, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, which organizes CES.
"It is all part of the migration of technology out of the home," CEA spokeswoman Jenny Paretti told ABCNEWS.com. "Consumers have an average of 25 consumer electronics in their homes. They're getting smaller, faster, sleeker to enjoy at home and on the go. The natural migration is from the home to the car."
Michael Gartenberg, a consumer technology analyst at Jupiter Research, agreed.
"Wagoner's speech and presence underscores the importance of the car as part of the consumer's mobile ecosystem," Gartenberg said. "If you think about it, the same way that cell phones aren't just for talking and TVs aren't just for watching, cars aren't just for driving anymore."
The increased automotive presence at the show demonstrates car companies' realization that they could attract more market share with the technology they offer in their cars.
"It's a way for the car companies to talk to a different kind of consumer, not a consumer looking at different anti-lock brakes, but at how can I integrate my car and my cell phone together," he said.
Fuel Cell Cars: Helping or Hype?
Despite the buzz surrounding the release, environmentalists say that when car companies tout fuel cell concept cars as part of their strategy to help the environment and fight global warming, they fool themselves and the American public.
"When a company touts their fuel cell as the example of their green car, that is a PR stunt," David Willett, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, told ABCNEWS.com. "Because that's not a green car for right now, that's a green car for several decades for now."
Many car companies developed and showcased fuel cell cars at auto shows in 2007, including Honda.
While in theory hydrogen fuel cell cars are some of the most environmentally friendly vehicles available, emitting only water as a waste product, experts say that the technology is years away from being available nationwide to mainstream America. There are only a handful of hydrogen filling stations in the United States and no centralized method of distribution.
Cadillac's general manager Jim Taylor readily acknowledged these challenges, but maintains that Americans could realistically see hydrogen cars on the road in force by the beginning of the next decade.
"The challenge is the infrastructure on the government and the state-side to kind of hold hands with the industry that produces the hydrogen," Taylor said. "From a technical standpoint though, it isn't challenging. It's easy to do. … It's a little bit of a Catch-22."
But it's for precisely that reason that environmental groups like the Sierra Club contend that car companies could be researching more realistic forms of green technology that would get on the road faster.
"Fuel cells are great and they will be a part of our economy in the future," Willett said. "It's a little disingenuous. There's more that the U.S. companies could be doing right now that we don't have to wait decades to enjoy."