Light truck makers are increasingly broadening their “green vehicle” efforts for commercial users and consumers alike, from offering flexible fuel options to hybrids, in a bid to reduce both pollution and the use of fossil fuels. For example, General Motors' Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups can be equipped with 5.3L V8 engines able to run on gasoline or E85, a blended fuel comprised of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.

“It's increasingly clear that, of anything that we can do over the next decade, ethanol has by far the greatest potential to actually reduce U.S. oil consumption, reduce oil imports, and reduce carbon gas emissions,” said Rick Wagoner, GM chairman and CEO.

Wagoner also said that E85 ethanol fuel produces fewer greenhouse gases during the combustion process and can enhance engine performance. And while ethanol today is mostly made with U.S.-grown biomaterial, such as corn, GM is helping promote research to turn non-food plant materials such as lumber mill waste, switchgrass, lawn clippings and even garbage into what is called cellulosic ethanol.

GM also plans to launch a two-mode hybrid version of its pickups in 2009, based on a system introduced on the 2008 Chevy Tahoe SUV. This truck uses a new electrically variable transmission (EVT), combined with active fuel management, aerodynamic aids, lighter components and an electric motor to obtain fuel economy of 21 mpg.

Ford Motor Co. is grouping its alternative efforts under a broad “sustainability” strategy that aims to lessen the overall impact of motor vehicles on the environment.

The cornerstones of the strategy include a new generation of fuel-saving, turbocharged gasoline engines for lighter vehicles as well as weight reductions of 250 to 750 lbs.; fuel-saving transmissions; advanced electric power steering; and aerodynamic improvements. There will also be more hybrid offerings and diesel engines for light-duty vehicles, according to Derrick Kuzak, Ford group vp-global product development.

A new generation of smaller-displacement turbocharged gasoline engines with advanced fuel-saving direct injection technologies is a near-term part of Ford's plan. These engines can provide a fuel savings of 10 to 20% without compromising performance, said Kuzak.

Chrysler approved the use of B20 in its diesel-powered Dodge Ram pickups two years ago. A biodiesel blend is also approved for diesel-powered Dodge Sprinter vans.

“Biofuels represent a huge opportunity to reduce fuel consumption and our dependence on foreign oil,” said Tom LaSorda, Chrysler vice chairman. “While diesel technology alone can make big strides toward helping us meet our national energy, environment and security objectives, when you add biodiesel and other biofuels, it gets really interesting. They are proof that at least part of the solution to our energy, environment and national security issues can be home-grown.”

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