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GM plans greener vehicles

Dee-Ann Durbin Associated Press

CHICAGO – General Motors Corp. said Wednesday that half its U.S. vehicle volume will run on ethanol by 2012, just as partner Coskata Inc. is expected to be ramping up ethanol production.

In a speech at the Chicago Auto Show, GM North America President Troy Clarke said GM will have 11 ethanol-capable vehicles on the market this year and 15 in 2009. Clarke also announced that GM will be producing its first four-cylinder ethanol-capable model, the FlexFuel Chevrolet HHR, in 2010.

“We don’t only want to respond to the needs of the market. We want to anticipate them,” Clarke said.

Clarke also said that Warrenville, Ill.-based Coskata, which announced its partnership with GM in January, has formed an alliance with ethanol plant engineering firm ICM Inc. to build its first plant, which is expected to open in late 2010.

Coskata President and Chief Executive Bill Roe said the company plans to announce the location of that plant and another plant in the next few weeks, and construction on both will start this year. ICM’s production process currently is being used for half of all U.S. ethanol production.

Coskata said it will be able to mass-produce ethanol at the plant for less than $1 a gallon using a unique process that converts feedstock, biomass, agricultural waste and even municipal solid waste to ethanol.

Clarke said GM is continuing to research hybrids, plug-in electric vehicles and other fuel-saving technology, but believes ethanol can provide the quickest reduction in emissions. The U.S. already has a fueling infrastructure for ethanol, and consumers would have to make minimal changes in behavior, he said.

Clarke said that if GM, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC meet their promises for the number of ethanol-capable vehicles they’ll have on the road by 2020, there would be a reduction of 29 billion gallons of fuel annually, or 18 percent of the country’s usage. GM now has 2.5 million ethanol-capable vehicles on the road and expects to have up to 20 million by 2020, Clarke said.

“Nothing else we can do gets even close to that kind of impact that soon,” Clarke said.

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