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14. January 2009

Electric Cars Popular At Detroit Auto Show

Battered U.S. automakers are putting on a show this week, though it's clear they've already had enough drama.

The North American International Auto Show in Detroit is a chance to show off an industry whose business is evaporating. In the industry's annual showcase of new products, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler focused on humility — and sustainability.

They emphasized more fuel-efficient cars. And they avoided big publicity stunts. Last year, Chrysler kicked off the auto show with 130 head of longhorn steer accompanying a Dodge Ram pickup through the streets of Detroit.

This year, everything was different. Instead of a waterfall that spelled out Jeep, there was a curtain of electric cords signifying the company's electric car offerings.

Jim Press, Chrysler's co-president, acknowledged the contrast. "Probably like me, you're looking to see if the cows are behind me," he said.

The company's financial crisis hung over the event like a cloud. Chrysler had to borrow $4 billion from the government last month just to keep operating.

Automakers are taking big risks on "green" cars — vehicles that run entirely or mostly on electric power. They've bet heavily that this is exactly what American drivers want.

Frank Klegon, who oversees product development for Chrysler, introduced three new electric vehicles, including the Dodge Circuit EV. A tangerine-colored sports car appeared from beneath a sheet. It looked good. But like Chrysler's other offerings, it's just a prototype.

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