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The Heated Rivalry in Low-Carbon Cars


The planned eco-friendly fleets of GM and competitors

General Motors has a lot of company. Practically every automaker on the planet is being forced to make cars and trucks that pollute less and go farther on a tank of fuel. Here is what GM and its main rivals have in the pipeline.

• GM (GM). The Chevrolet Volt is the sexiest green car in GM's arsenal. Due in November, 2010, the sedan will charge up in six hours and run for 40 miles before a small gasoline engine fires up and recharges the battery, extending the range to 600 miles. On such longer trips, GM says it will get 100 miles per gallon. Insiders say future generations may offer different battery sizes; smaller and cheaper ones for people who commute less than 40 miles and bigger ones for road-trippers. GM says the Volt will sell for $30,000 to $45,000. And the electric bill? GM says it will cost $150 to $300 a year to keep it charged, about one-sixth the cost to gas up today's cars. GM is also pushing harder into hybrids. An 80-mpg version of the Saturn Vue SUV arrives next year. It will be the first plug-in hybrid in the U.S.

• Toyota (TM). It already has the Prius and five other hybrids selling in the U.S. The company plans to lease a limited number of plug-in hybrids by 2010 and put its gasoline-electric hybrid system into more models. Its next-generation hybrid cars should be launched the same year. They will get better fuel economy and cost less.

• Honda (HMC). It's the contrarian. While Honda aims to launch another hybrid compact by 2010, it also has plans for clean diesel engines in anything larger than a Civic. It thinks clean diesel, which can boost fuel economy by more than 25%, is a more cost-effective solution than hybrids. Honda's conventional engines already beat most rivals when it comes to fuel economy.

• Nissan (NSANY). CEO Carlos Ghosn bought Toyota's hybrid system for the Altima family sedan. But in two years Nissan will replace it with one that's home-grown. Plus, in 2010, Nissan plans to start selling electric cars worldwide. They will use technology similar to GM's.

• Ford (F). GM's crosstown rival is pushing its Eco Boost engines, which generate plenty of power and better fuel economy. And by the end of the decade two more hybrids will join the Escape SUV in Ford's gasoline-electric lineup.

Welch is BusinessWeek's Detroit bureau chief.

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