01/20/2011 03:39 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Detroit Auto Show: Sure Looks Green to Me

I'll bet many of you have heard rumblings from friends and relatives or colleagues at work about the premature death of the green movement, and how the economic recovery must first occur before we even address climate change. This rhetoric is a groundswell among otherwise rational people, not just climate change deniers.

I just returned from the Detroit Auto Show (courtesy of Ford Motor Company, I should disclose) and there was one overwhelming, over-arching headline that was in your face, anywhere you looked: the green movement in personal transportation is just beginning. Virtually every automaker showcased green cars above all else. Doubting Thomas's claim that electrics and hybrids combined won't amount to more than five percent of the total car market. It's hard to fathom that almost all the car companies would devote this relentless effort to R&D and marketing launch publicity in return for only a token slice of sales. Indeed, some analysts seriously question the numbers behind the auto industry going green. Thankfully, the companies themselves seem rather committed at this point and there appears to be no turning back.

Now, skeptics might say that four or five years ago, when the green movement appeared to be The Next Big Thing times ten, the automakers had to decide to go green and we are just now seeing the real results of those decisions. (It takes anywhere from two to five years for a new model to make it from concept to production.) I would humbly submit that the incredible onslaught of hybrid, electric and other alternative fuel vehicles seen at the 2011 North American International Auto Show demonstrates that those who really know - the car makers themselves - believe Gen Y and Net Gen are being raised to be environmentally conscious as part of their DNA and will default to buying green vehicles.

Highlights of this commitment include everything from the new small car line from Ford (Fiesta, Focus and C-Max) to two new models of Prius from Toyota, to the best of show-winning Chevrolet Volt hybrid electric, the all electric Nissan Leaf, and unbelievable electric/hybrid race cars for the street from Mercedes Benz (the E-Cell, an electric version of the new SLS Gullwing which only come in a retina piercing electric yellow hue) and Porsche (the 918 hybrid street exotic and track version, both of which are absolutely stunning). The only automakers who seemingly didn't have much to boast about green-wise were Ferrari and Maserati. Even Bentley claims its new GT, all 5,000+ pounds and almost 600 horsepower's worth, is significantly lighter and more fuel-efficient than its predecessor.

Ford Press Conference 2011

Critics claim that hybrids make great publicity and image, but consumers won't pay thousands more for them. Even if that turns out to be true, there seems to be a trickle-down effect that benefits everyone. That is, even good old fashioned gasoline automobiles now get anywhere from good to stunningly great fuel economy. You don't have to go hybrid or electric to go fuel efficient. For example, most gas models of the Fiesta, Focus and C-Max from Ford will get 30-45+ mpg. Those are numbers that even three years ago were almost unachievable. Clearly, the emphasis on going green has affected the designers and engineers, as has the Federal fuel economy fleet requirement to average 35 mpg by 2020. They say you cannot mandate technology, and that the free enterprise system won't allow for products that consumers don't want to buy. What's happening right now with fuel efficient vehicles may prove otherwise. How great is that for the environment, and consumer pocketbooks?

Another example worthy of mention is why Ford invited me and several other green bloggers to the Detroit show in the first place. Ford Digital Communications Director Scott Monty brought these greenies in mostly to show off its commitment to open communications with the environmental media. Participants came from as far away as India, South Africa, Australia, China and Italy, all of which are important international markets for Ford and most major automakers. Many of these writers were not car people, and for that matter, some didn't even have driver's licenses. Ford wanted to show off its environmentally responsible activities such as the clean and green River Rouge plant, previously a classic "Allentown" style hot, dirty and polluting facility which now boasts a green roof, grey water systems, green packaging and recycling top to bottom, and cool, well lit working conditions. For years I wondered about Executive Chairman Bill Ford's grandiose claims from the green soapbox. The rebuilt Rouge plant is truly a great example of a Rust Belt industrial nightmare turned green showpiece. Ford also demonstrated its in-car "Sync" system which is directed at Gen Y and Net Gen with everything from full voice activation to internet hot spot, inputs for all forms of digital music, state-of-the-art NAV systems, and more, all at a price point that younger drivers can afford. All of these features will be offered in the lower priced car lines, not only the upscale models.

Ford Factory Assembly Line

Most major automakers can point to many green product claims and internal practices that were just a pipedream a few short years ago. For this, a green blogger such as I, one who admits to liking cars as part of Americana and the freedom of personal transportation, can feel a lot better about where this industry is headed and what it is doing to address climate change. If the green movement is more hype than reality, this industry ain't buying it and for that we should be grateful.