Detroit auto show features power -- despite green car revolution

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For Vice President Joe Biden, it was a victory lap of sorts. His visit Thursday to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit was a chance to bask in the bailout of Chrysler and GM.

Last year was a great one for both companies - even more so for Ford, which took no bailout money.

That fact prompted an extraordinary quip from the Vice President as he toured the show with Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford, Jr. "Thank you for saving our ass," Biden told Ford.

All three domestic auto makers pulled profits in 2013, with 15.6 million vehicles sold last year in the U.S. - up 7.6 percent from 2012. Biden told the NAIAS crowd, "The American auto industry isn't just back like Detroit is going to come back, but America is back in part because you are."

But there are a few speed bumps on Biden’s victory lap. Manufacturers this year, both domestic and foreign, are mostly showcasing, to rave reviews,a century old technology - piston engines and high horsepower. From pick-ups to SUVs to racy imports, power is back in vogue.

Perhaps no car epitomizes that as much as GM's new top-of-the-line offering, the new Corvette Z0-6, which has 560 horsepower.

"The green car revolution has, in essence, not happened," says Dan Kish, Senior Vice President for The Institute for Energy Research. "As the numbers from last year’s sales show, the things that people are buying are trucks and SUVs, that means people want size, they want comfort, they want power."

Kish points out that Ford sold 763,000 F-series trucks last year but only 35,000 hybrid C-max vehicles.

In recent years, two major battery makers for hybrid and electric cars, Ener1 and A123 systems, went bankrupt, as did electric car maker Fisker and electric charging station installer, Ecotality. All were heavily subsidized by the Obama administration.

Mike Mandel of the Progressive Policy Institute,a proponent of green energy, says he wants to see more bankruptcies like that, because it's a sign of a government pushing the boundaries of energy research and development.

"This is why I would love to see both liberals and conservatives supporting a broad range of investment in new energy technologies both applied and basic, so that whatever happens, we're ready," he said.

Mandel's phrase, "... whatever happens," is a reference to climate change. Increasing skepticism about it, and a different energy revolution- in oil and gas extraction - has helped keep Americans' love affair with muscle cars alive and gasoline prices mostly stable.

That is not to say that this year’s new generation of cars has not benefited from green technology and the quest for increased mileage and less carbon pollution. For the first time, Ford's mainstay, the F-150 pick-up truck, has shed hundreds of pounds through the widespread use of high-strength aluminum instead of steel, a change that other manufacturers are also employing.

BMW features a new technology that automatically shuts the engine off, as the car stops at a red light or comes to rest, and re-starts it when the accelerator is pushed again.

Biden, a '67 Corvette owner himself, who laments that the Secret Service no longer allows him to tool around in his beloved 'Vette, Thursday marveled at a feature in the new Corvette.

At the flip of a button, the driver can de-activate four of the eight cylinders to achieve almost 30 miles per gallon, a quantum leap forward from the high performance gas guzzler of an earlier generation.