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Steve Nesius/Steve Nesius/AP

This is the debut of Green Highway, a weekly round-up of news from the world of environmentally-friendly cars and driving

Ferrari will come out with its first hybrid system on the upcoming replacement for its 612 Scaglietti grand touring car. Britain's Autocar magazine quoted unnamed Ferrari sources confirming that the Italian exotic car company is working on a hybrid system that will see electric power going to the front wheels, giving the car all-wheel-drive capability. The system reportedly won't be available before 2014.

Although Ferrari has not officially confirmed the report on the magazine's site, Ferrari CEO Amadeo Felisa confirmed at the most recent Frankfurt Auto show that the first Ferrari hybrid was "likely to be" a V12 model.

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Spy shots have since appeared suggesting that the 612's replacement will be the next all-new V12 car from the home of the Prancing Horse. The hybrid system would not be available at that car's launch, but debut closer to the 2015 model year, said the latest report, released last week.

The current 612 offers a massive 5.7-litre V12 engine driving the rear wheels, but this hybrid system would focus more on improving handling and acceleration than fuel economy, according to the company insiders.

But Ferrari is nevertheless interested in reducing fuel consumption and lowering the emissions produced by its products, even though they and exotic car fans in general have long maintained that the limited numbers of these cars sold and the relatively low mileage they accumulate account for a tiny blip in the overall carbon footprint of the global auto industry.

Felisa confirmed that Ferrari's new-for-2009 California hardtop convertible would receive a start-stop system in 2010, which automatically turns off the engine at red lights and restarts it instantly upon letting go of the brakes, which is the system that accounts for the majority of real world fuel savings in most gas-electric hybrid vehicles.

Ferrari is not the only Italian car maker going the planet-friendlier route, while still maintaining its focus on high horsepower performance. Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann also admitted in August that the Volkswagen-controlled company will launch a hybrid model by 2015, likely in the Gallardo, he suggested to a German auto trade journal in August. Winkelmann said Lamborghini was not planning to go the all-electric route, which Mercedes-Benz will pioneer among supercars with its upcoming SLS eDrive, and which Lambo's sister company Audi has recently confirmed it will pursue with an all-electric version of its mid-engine R8.

-- Michael Bettencourt

Climate change? What climate change?

The Frontier Centre for Public Policy is never afraid to rattle the cage of the Greenies. The privately run think tank, active in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, recently hosted an event proclaiming "Global Warming is a Fraud." Last week they released a paper calling for a "Canadian Autobahn," a new, high-speed highway system across Canada. "The United States, Europe, China, and Japan all have motorway systems that reach virtually all of their major urban areas; Canada is an exception," said the report.

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Their first priority would be to upgrade the Trans-Canada Highway from Halifax to Vancouver to motorway standards. Then a motorway from Edmonton to Calgary to the Canada-U.S. border, one from Ottawa to Sudbury and another across Newfoundland. They want expressway links to the U.S. interstate highway system and through it to the expressway system of Mexico. All this they want completed within 15 years. No price tag was attached.

The argument in favour of this was stated as follows, "Motorways have been shown to have a significant positive impact on national and local economies, principally because saving time improves productivity." There was no comment on whether the new "autobahns" should be speed limit-free as some sections are in Germany.

There is a logic behind their proposal. If one starts with the position that "Global Warming is a Fraud" and presumes that Western Canada can keep us all in petroleum forever - then go for it. Nobody likes a high-speed road trip better than me. But I have the feeling that a high-speed electrified rail network will be on the public agenda before the 1930's autobahn concept goes sea-to-sea in Canada.

- Michael Vaughan

Green cars' Canadian awards breakthrough

Green vehicles made something of a breakthrough in the recently announced AJAC (Automotive Journalists Association of Canada) Cars of the Years awards.

In direct competition with conventional gas vehicles, three diesels and a hybrid won four of 12 categories of 2010 new models.

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As category winners, they qualify for 2010 Canadian car of the year and utility vehicle of the year, which will be announced in February at Toronto's Canadian National Auto Show.

The four class wins is a big step up. Grene vehicles won single category victories in the 2007 and 2009 model years, but there were never multiple winners. Up to 2006, 'green' vehicles were consigned to a class of their own (Best New Alternative Power) as though they weren't directly comparable with regular gasoline-burners. This year, manufacturers entered diesels and hybrids in seven of the 12 categories.

Significantly, the diesels - BMW 335d, Volkswagen Golf TDI Wagon, Volkswagen Touareg TDI and the Lexus RX450h hybrid were judged superior not just on the basis of their fuel efficiency but in voters' evaluations of such factors as vehicle dynamics, styling and safety features.

The 335d, for example, was the AJAC experts' selection as best new luxury car ahead of the worthy Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon and Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan.

The VW Golf TDI Wagon outscored Ford Fusion, Subaru Legacy Sedan and the best-selling hybrid, Toyota Prius, as best new family car under $30,000. Another of VW's growing family of turbo-diesels, the Touareg, topped six competitors in the $35-60,000 SUV/CUV class.

The sole hybrid winner, the Lexus RX450h, excelled Audi Q7, Acura MDX, Cadillac SRX and Lincoln MKT as best SUV/CUV over $60,000.

Both full hybrid entries fared poorly in their categories. Honda Insight finished fifth out of seven in the Best New Small Car Over $21,000 and the Prius, fourth of four in Best New Family Car Under $30,000. Their advantages in fuel efficiency were negated by low ratings in other considerations on the AJAC experts' scorecards.

As for other green entries, the hybrid model of the Ford Fusion placed second behind a conventional Ford Taurus in the family car over $30,000 category. Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid, the first hybrid from this company that has long staked its environmental future on clean-burning diesel technology, stood third in best new prestige car voting won by the Porsche Panamera Turbo.

--Dan Proudfoot

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