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Fuel for love

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In a departure from the normally acidic tone many environmentalists take toward Detroit’s North American International Auto Show — aka the Love the Auto Orgy — the Michigan Environmental Council is holding a clean-car scavenger hunt for kids under 14. The contest form asks kids to locate auto show vehicles with the best gas mileage and to indicate fuel-efficient technologies. The winner gets a trip to Orlando, Fla.

David Gard, MEC energy policy specialist, says the group wants to send a positive message, instead of attacking 2003’s ever-bigger gas-ravenous SUVs, and “to teach kids the link between fuel efficiencies and the environment.”

This year, auto news isn’t all doom, he says: MEC applauds General Motors’ announcement that it will offer hybrid power trains (two engines: one gas, one pollution-free hydrogen) in GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickups this year. The company says it will produce as many as 1 million hybrid vehicles annually by 2007.

Regular SUVs, which account for one-fourth of auto sales (more than 4 million annually), spurred a headlines-grabbing TV ad last week linking SUV gas usage to terrorism. A group called The Detroit Project, headed by LA columnist Arianna Huffington, paid for the ad. Detroit TV stations refused to run it but newspapers wrote about it.

Gard says the message is “on target.” “There’s evidence … that some of the money that comes from the sale of foreign oil goes to terrorist activity,” says Gard.

Detroit’s Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick says he thinks the ad is “somewhat ridiculous,” and not unlike saying “Arabs support terrorism” because it is so generalizing. “You indict people with statements like that who don’t deserve it,” says the mayor, whose wife drives an SUV.

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