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Electric, hybrid cars get push with Energy grants

New SUVs introduced at Auto Show

Mazda
Mazda's new 'sport sedan'

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January 5, 1999
Web posted at: 7:27 p.m. EST (0027 GMT)

DETROIT (CNN) -- Two U.S. companies have won $20 million in grants to develop electric power systems that can be used in electric, hybrid and fuel cell vehicles, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson announced Tuesday at the 1999 North American International Auto Show.

Silicon Power Corp. of Malvern, Pennsylvania, and Satcon Technology Corp. of Cambridge, Massachusetts, have each been awarded $10 million in grants to develop "smarter, smaller, and less expensive electric power systems."

The money will be paid out over the next three years and the companies are expected to provide prototypes for testing within 15 months, Richardson said.

The research these companies perform will help the Big Three automakers -- Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler -- meet a 2004 deadline for a new generation of fuel-efficient, low-emission vehicles, Richardson said.

While at the show, Richardson viewed hybrid cars from Honda and Toyota.

Asked how the government expects to lure Americans out of larger vehicles like sedans, light trucks and sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) that produce more emissions, Richardson said one proposal now being considered would involve tax credits for people who buy cars with electric or hybrid power systems.

New crop of SUVs introduced

Several companies also introduced new, smaller SUVs at the Auto Show.

Santa Fe
Hyundai's Santa Fe  

Hyundai has hopped aboard the SUV bandwagon with the Santa Fe, slated for model year 2000. The new vehicle is a little bigger than a Toyota RAV4 and is party-friendly with its own lift-out picnic table.

Mazda took its old MPV minivan, renamed it a sports sedan and created an experimental version.

Subaru presented a new version of the popular Outback, a so-called hybrid vehicle -- an all-wheel-drive wagon that's tough like a truck, but drives more like a car.

And Nissan showed off a concept vehicle that combines a four-seat cab with a short pickup bed.

Jerry Hirshberg, Nissan's chief of design, called the concept "a merger of two previously disconnected worlds."

Hirshberg said the good response the vehicle has prompted at the Detroit expo makes it more likely that Nissan will begin producing it.

"I would say the company is very serious about exploring this," he said. "The reaction has been very strong here."

CNN's Ed Garsten and Dean Potter contributed to this report.

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