Competition to produce the most fuel efficient vehicles is shifting into overdrive after General Motors announced triple digit miles-per-gallon ratings for its new hybrid-electric vehicle. Analysts say renewed interest in environmentally sound, ultra-efficient vehicles has opened a myriad of opportunities for manufacturers. One small company in Colorado is convinced it can give the big automakers a run for the money.
General Motors made a big splash this month when it announced its new electric vehicle, the Chevy Volt, will go an astounding 230 miles per gallon (more than 97 kilometers per liter).
Company CEO Fritz Henderson believes the new line of gas-electric hybrids is the company's ticket back to profitability.
"A car that gets triple digit fuel economy, we believe, can and will be, a game changer for us," said Henderson.
Now in production, the Chevy Volt is expected to launch in 2010. Industry analyst Rebecca Lindland says there's a lot riding on the new car."
"It is very important that it be a homerun for them because they have put a lot of their reputation into this vehicle," said Rebecca Lindland.
But GM will have plenty of competition. Nissan is set to unveil its new, all-electric Leaf next year, and Honda is expected to roll out a new hybrid gas-electric called Insight.
Although they can't compete with the Volt's fuel efficiency, the price tag - between $10,000 to $15,000 less - could win converts.
And there's also homegrown competition.
Coda, a new company based in Colorado, is promoting a new vehicle that can maintain speeds of 130 kilometers per hour for more than 160 kilometers without using gasoline.
The company has received $45 million in stimulus funds to jump start production.
Colorado Governor Bill Ritter was among the first to test drive the prototype.
"This is the first Colorado company the Department of Energy has provided loan guarantee money," said Bill Ritter. "It means they believe in the concept."
Company officials hope to put 20,000 of the battery-powered cars into production this year.
At about $35,000 apiece, Governor Ritter says the Coda produces no emissions and takes only six hours to charge.
"You take that car and it goes to someone's garage," he said. "That person plugs it in, their energy's delivered to their home through solar or wind or geothermal, and there's zero emissions as part of operating that vehicle."
But with so many fuel-efficient vehicles vying for attention, analysts say green vehicles are just part of the solution for the ailing auto industry.
After the worst sales slump in decades, General Motors is targeting another emerging market with plans to build a compact car that will sell for about $4,000.
No word yet if the low-cost vehicles will be sold in the U.S.