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Hybrids' higher cost worries automakers
From plug-in hybrids to biofueled supercars, automakers at the North American International Auto Show say they know how to build environmentally conscious vehicles.

What they don't know is how many customers will buy them, and at what price.

Every automaker has given a glimpse over the past two days of its strategies for dealing with tougher U.S. fuel economy regulations, rising oil prices and a surge of global warming rules around the globe. While Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. have pledged new hybrids, General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC have touted a variety of approaches. Ford Motor Co. has bet big on a single technology.

But in interviews with the Free Press, Detroit executives said the technical hurdles to meeting a 35-m.p.g. standard by 2020 were less difficult than getting customers to accept the changes and extra costs that come along with the goal.

GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told reporters at the show that the new U.S. rules would cost the industry $5,000 to $7,000 per vehicle, with much higher costs possible for some models.

"Technology is an easy thing to do. What's not easy is how you absorb the cost," Lutz said Monday. "I don't care if you're Toyota, Honda or anybody else, you're not going to do it without adding expensive technology to the automobile."

And while the classic American V8 engine isn't extinct, the new rules could sharply cull its numbers. GM killed plans for a new V8 last month, and Ford Chairman Bill Ford said such engines will be "more industrial than retail" in the future, limited mostly to high-end sports cars and commercial trucks.

"Will we turn our back on the Carroll Shelbys of the world? No," Ford said, referring to the sports car icon and the high-performance Mustangs that bear his name. "But will we sell them in big, big numbers? Not really." Detroit Free Press

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