BEIJING – Shanghai General Motors Co. Ltd. is employing an eco-friendly “green” theme in its marketing efforts here, hoping to appeal to consumers who suffer some of the worst smog conditions in the world while also paying some of the highest fuel prices.

That’s the premise. But another driver is that high-tech, low-emissions, fuel-efficient powertrains are a prestigious vehicle feature in a market where “face” is so important. So says Joseph Liu, General Motors Corp. China Group’s executive director-vehicle sales, service and merchandising.

To support its message, GM displayed two of its advanced, 2-mode hybrid vehicles at the recent Beijing International Auto Show here. Additionally, a large “Drive to Green” sign dominated the front entrance of the exhibition hall that displayed most of the North American and major European brands.

The marketing program, which runs through 2012, involves a 3-point strategy that calls for developing vehicles with better fuel economy and lower greenhouse-gas emissions.

“All of our products are produced using water-based paints,” says Liu. “All of them meet Euro-4 emissions standards, and two of our systems now have the best fuel-economy ratings in their class.

“One of these is the 2.4L Ecotec DVVT engine mated to GM’s new Eco S6 6-speed automatic transmission on the Buick LaCrosse. It provides a fuel economy of 5.6 L/100 km (42 mpg) at 90 km/h (42 mpg). Another economy leader is the 1.2L S-Tech II engine on the Chevrolet Aveo, which delivers fuel economy of 4.7 L/100 km (50 mpg) at 90 km/h. The Buick LaCrosse Eco-Hybrid (mild hybrid) improves fuel economy 15%,” Liu adds.

GM China President Kevin Wale says the average fuel economy for all vehicles sold by GM in China improved 20% in the 2002-2007 timeframe, before the latest green effort. That’s double the gains made by the rest of the industry in China, he says.

And while many believe GM China is the supplier of large, gas-guzzling vehicles, the reverse is true. “We have made a concerted effort to focus on small engines that deliver splendid performance coupled with excellent fuel economy and low-emission rates,” Wale says.

“Currently, 80% of our cars are equipped with 4-cyl. engines and we will continue to increase that percentage.”

The LaCrosse Eco-Hybrid, which goes on sale in China in June, is GM’s first hybrid passenger car on the world market, Wale says. The Cadillac Escalade 2-Mode Hybrid that goes on sale here in 2009 delivers 50% better fuel economy in city driving when the electric motor gets maximum usage. The gas engine is a 332-hp V-8.

Pricing for the hybrid vehicles in China has not been released.