At its press conference this morning, GM made a bigger deal of the Coskata partnership than I expected. Not only were many of the people from the Chicago briefings at the show, but Mr. Ethanol Moneybags (by which I mean an investor who funds a lot of ethanol companies, including Coskata) Vinod Khosla himself was mingling with the Coskata and GM brass (Bob Lutz, Larry Burns, Mary Beth Stanek) right in front of the stage before the proceedings officially began. When things got going, a juggler performed a quite cool routine in time with the Beatle's "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Wieght/Ending" (see the above video for a few seconds of that).
After the juggler and an atrocious video intro (my skin crawls whenever there is a slick corporate movie playing), GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner dove headfirst into the alternative fuel issue, highlighting not only GM's recent green steps (the Volt, the Vue PHEV, the AUTOtonomy and more) but talked about just how much fuel we use, as Americans and as people around the world. Right now, we use roughly 1,000 barrels of oil a second. Also, the world will need 70 percent more energy in 2030 than it did in 2004. Yikes.
So, what's the good news? Well, from GM's perspective this morning, it's the Saab 9-4X BioPower, the biofuelable Hummer HX concept (pics coming soon) and the GM-Coskata partnership (Oh, and there will an announcement on the Chevy Volt's production status tomorrow Wagoner said). After Wagoner announced the Coskata partnership, Bill Roe and Vinod Khosla stepped onto the stage and said a few words.
The cars are cool and all, but GM is certainly going heavy on the cellolosic ethanol thing. The message I took away from the event is that the future is fuel. Wagoner said that nothing that a carmaker can do will reduce gasoline use as much and as quickly as running more vehicles on ethanol. EV, PHEVs, hybrids and hydrogen remain an important goal, but right now ethanol is vital. Wagoner repeated his call to increase the number of E85 stations in the U.S. and said automakers need to step up and build more E85-capable vehicles.
You can listen to the whole spiel here (23 min, 16 MB).
Above the GM stage (and peppered throughout the company's obscenely large display area for vehicles from the stable of GM brands - Saab, HUMMER, Saturn, etc.) large display screens cycled through a series of alternative energy myth vs. facts. I've added them to a gallery of images below, and the text is as follows:
Myth: Americans don't support using alternative fuels.
Fact: 88% of U.S. adults are in favor of renewable energy sources.
Myth: Corn-based ethanol takes food off our plates.
Fact: The U.S. Government predicts a corn surplus in 2008.
Myth: Ethanol could never significantly reduce the use of gasoline/diesel fuel.
Fact: By 2030, the U.S. can produce enough ethanol to REDUCE THE USE of fossil fuels by 30%.
Myth: One SUV's worth of ethanol could feed a man for a whole year.
Fact: Only if the man can survive on five bushels of field corn.
Myth: The energy used to make ethanol wipes out the environmental benefits.
Fact: Ethanol reduces CO2 and creates more energy.
Myth: Ethanol = higher priced corn.
Fact: Rising energy costs played a major role.
We can deconstruct these lines another time (there's more to cover here in Detroit right now), but I just thought I'd share.