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February 1, 2010

"The Washington Auto Show is the public policy show," stated Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association president Gerry Murphy. With the goal of attracting legislators and policymakers out of their offices and to the convention center for the show, this year's show inaugurated a new display area titled the Advanced Technology Superhighway.

The Superhighway exhibited alternative drive technology from across the industry, from established carmakers like General Motors, which showed a cut-away display of the Chevrolet Volt electric car, to hopeful inventors like Scuderi Engine, which claims to have invented a new way for internal combustion engines to operate that is said to be more efficient.

Show organizers' planning worked as hoped, according to Murphy. "The Superhighway is going very well," he said. "It is the cheese in the trap that has brought policymakers here," he said. "It is the opportunity for them to see the way the industry is going."

They could also rub elbows with top industry executives in attendance, such as Ford president and CEO Alan Mullaly, Mazda North American Operations president Jim O'Sullivan and Chrysler Brand president Olivier Francois.

The 65,000-square-foot showcase highlighted advancements in electric, hybrid, diesel, natural gas, biofuels, hydrogen and safety technologies with more green cars on exhibit than at any other domestic show.

Volkswagen's E-Up, BMW Concept ActiveE, and Think City electric cars were all on display, along with production models such as Honda's hybrid Insight. The Think City electric car is already in production in Finland, and the company promises to begin selling the Smart Car-sized electric in the U.S. soon.

Unlike many prior electric minicars, the City has already passed European crash safety standards, so it makes a strong case that the car the company plans for assembly in Indiana will be able to pass U.S. crash tests. The City travels at speeds up to 70 mph and boasts a range of 112 miles on a charge.

Another more mundane, but no less popular, feature of the show was the General Motors test drive. Show visitors could sign up to take one of several popular GM cars and SUVs for a brief spin around the nation's capital, and they were taking the company up on the offer.

The only catch? To drive one of the new Chevrolet Camaros that most attendees wanted to try, they had to first drive one of the other, maybe less exciting models, such as the GMC Terrain or Chevrolet Tahoe hybrid.

But savvy technophiles and green car enthusiasts might have noticed the opportunity to combine the GM Test Drive with the Advanced Technology Superhighway, because among the production cars available for drives was one of GM's advanced Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell vehicles, giving visitors a chance to be one of the first people in the country to experience a drive using the same hydrogen powerplant that propelled the moon buggies of NASA's Apollo lunar missions.


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About the Author
Dan Carney is a veteran auto industry observer who has written for, Motor Trend, AutoWeek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Better Homes and Gardens and other publications.  He has authored two books, "Dodge Viper" and "Honda S2000" and is a juror for the North American Car of the Year award.  Carney covers the industry from the increasingly strategic location of Washington, D.C.

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