This year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit had a very different feel to it from the last few years when alternative fuel vehicles were all the rage, especially the all-electric concept cars. This year, however, the emphasis appears to be on high fuel-economy gasoline cars.
Let’s go back to 2008 when gasoline prices hit $4 per gallon for the first time. If you wanted to get close to 40-miles per gallon in a non-hybrid car, you had only three choices. Toyota Corolla was tops at 37-miles per gallon, Yaris came in at 36, and the Honda Fit was rated at 34. Not really a lot of choice and this was less than four years ago.
Today there are dozens of models that will get from 35-miles per gallon to 42-miles per gallon in very nicely equipped vehicles that are not ultra-small. I just had the 2012 Chevy Sonic for instance, and got 40 miles to the gallon consistently. It had a turbo to give it plenty of power, heated seats, a great sound system, power windows and locks, automatic headlights, Bluetooth, and keyless entry for an MSRP of $17,995.
Over the next couple of years, the number of small, but very nice, gasoline powered cars will arrive in showrooms. You do not need to look further than the success Ford has had with their Ecoboost family of engines, and they have a ton more coming.
So why this sudden influx of great, fuel-efficient gasoline cars? For one, every car company got caught with nothing to sell in 2008 when everyone panicked at $4 per gallon. They rushed and scurried and worked hard to find cars that would get greatly improved mileage, that were nice and not stripped-down models and would pass the tough U.S. emission and safety standards. It has just taken this long for them to become available.
We also know that the government has dramatically increased future fuel-economy standards, so much of this had to be done anyway. It is just my opinion, but I think the manufacturers found it an easier task to break the 40-mile per gallon barrier than they thought it was going to be, and I think they have been surprised by the reaction from consumers. As it turns out, much of America was ready to transition to smaller cars as long as they are nice, are safe, and drive well.
The question is what happens to the all-electric cars and the hybrids? Looking ahead, the hybrid models are probably going to continue to grow, but so far at their peak, they accounted for less than 3% of total sales in spite of the number of offerings increasing every year.
It appears the all-electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt are losing momentum, in spite of heavy government rebates. Even a group of auto executives in Detroit last week agreed that for the next decade, gas engines are where the automakers will put their emphasis. To meet 2025 standards, the auto manufacturers have to gain about 4 ½ percent in fuel-economy every year. While that sounds like a lot, and odds are each year will be harder than the last one to get the improvement, technology and weight reduction are aiding them dramatically.
With any new technology, there are a certain amount of people who want to be first to have it. One must wonder if those people have bought a Leaf or a Volt, and now we are down to the competition between the new generation of gas vehicles versus hybrids, versus all-electric. Looking at the auto show in Detroit, the buzz on electric cars has been unplugged.