This week stood out for two topics - EVs (in the wider sense encompassing pure electric vehicles and various forms of hybrid) and 'cash for clunkers'.
A significant milestone was reached when Chevrolet Volt chief engineer, Andrew Farah, hit a personal goal of test-driving a pre-production prototype before Independence Day. This 'range extender' plug-in hybrid is a sharp-looking car, changed in some detail from earlier show concepts, and every bit as eye-catching as the new Honda Insight and Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrids.
I look forward eventually to getting my mitts on a production Volt (or, more likely, the Opel/Vauxhall Ampera variant we'll get on this side of the pond) and trying long-distance 'trolley bus' motoring for myself. It sure was fun last month to see how far a production Lexus RX450h could be pedalled through rush-hour Budapest on the electric motors alone.
A sign of the times, perhaps, is automakers' increasing use of blogs to keep us up to date. Chevrolet's Farah told us all about his Volt first drive on GM's 'FastLane' blog and, not to be outdone, Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk used his to describe how Tesla Roadster production costs have been slashed.
Despite some of the pure-EV hype around at the moment, don't dismiss the long-serving internal combustion engine just yet. One of the auto biz's wisest sages, outgoing Honda CEO Takeo Fukui (there was also a significant changing of the guard at Toyota this week, by the way), said engine technology would remain at the core of Honda Motor's development efforts.
"Engines still have a long way to go. You can't improve the hybrid system without working on engines."
Or, he could have added, batteries.
Nissan, where CEO Carlos Ghosn has nailed EVs firmly to the mast, sailed on regardless, announcing that 100,000-unit a year EV production would start in Tennessee next year and that such models would be rolled out globally from 2012.
Big plans, the most significant of which is the plan to build the battery packs locally. Toyota, which has postponed indefintely plans to make the Prius in Mississippi after fickle North Americans stopping buying hybrids because gas prices went back down, told me in Japan earlier this month that volume like that more than justifies shifting battery pack production Stateside.
It'll be interesting to see if the ever-confident Ghosn achieves all his global EV ambitions in the next few years. If nothing else, his US plan (and Toyota's if/when Prius demand picks up enough again to justify the investment in a US plant) is one good way of re-purposing expensive factories originally built to satisfy the US's once near-insatiable demand for big SUVs. At least Toyota pulled the plug in Mississippi before it paid the huge cost of kitting out the now-mothballed building.
Other EV news this week included a new North American JV for hybrid components and a new UK trial of Ford Focus battery-electric (BEV) prototypes. Ford, you'll recall, will next year start selling a BEV version of the Turkish-made Transit Connect in the US alongside petrol models just being launched there now; these EV versions will be converted to battery power here in the UK by local firm Smith Electric Vehicles.
Meanwhile, back in the US, Ford, Nissan and Tesla became the first automakers to receive loans from a new federal programme to help develop new, energy-efficient technology.
And the country's new 'cash for clunkers' scheme, as it's called unofficially, finally got off to the same, slightly confused start as the one here in the UK now credited with, if memory serves, about 60,000 additional car sales. The US scheme had barely been given the green light before an imported dealer group warned of potential scams. And, if not a scam, a UK buyers' guide reckoned it was possible to make a profit from ours.
Finally, speaking of milestones, just-auto reached one just today - the 100,000th news story published since we made our way on to the world-wide web way back in 1999. It's a fitting sign of the times that this story was about Chinese automaker Great Wall taking its pickup trucks into two new Antipodean markets where that sector is keenly fought over.
Hey, if it's good enough for an automaker to celebrate a Job One line-off, or unit #100,000 out of a plant, we reckon we're entitled to crack open a bottle or two. A British dark ale chilled, please, waiter, quick as you like...
Have a nice weekend.