Although green cars are present in greater numbers than ever at this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit, they are not necessarily the most interesting environmental story. Many manufacturers this year have one model or another of their cars connected to a pylon with a conspicuous electrical cord, as manufacturers including Chevrolet, Ford, Volvo, Toyota and Volkswagen all had plug-in hybrids or EVs on display. But that largely seems to be everyone rushing to fill the new segment so that they can say, "Yeah, we have one of those, too."
Although it isn't what the manufacturers are hyping with their displays, there are growing numbers of cars with mileage in the 40s. (And while we should recall why MPG is a stupid way to measure fuel economy, that's the standard that's used, so we'll continue to reference it here.) A decade ago, a 40 MPG car would have been remarkable. Now, many manufacturers have models that attain this mileage without expensive equipment or specialized systems.
More importantly, these are generally more affordable cars. Many of these models are under $20,000 (and some are significantly less than that). This means that many more of these cars will be on the roads in the coming years than the flashy but more expensive hybrids and EVs.
Chevrolet Cruze ECO - 28 MPG city/42 highway - includes special aerodynamic package that gives it the same aerodynamic figures as the Volt. At highway speed, dampers close the front grille, helping improve airflow and efficiency.
Chevrolet Sonic - pending - will be a Fall release, so final efficiency numbers have not yet been released, although the figure of 40 MPG was mentioned during Chevy's presentation.
Ford Fiesta - 29 MPG city/40 highway - a fuel efficient version with the optional Super Fuel Economy Package gets Ford into the 40+ club.
Honda Insight - 40 MPG city/43 highway - actually a mild hybrid, but available with base models under $20,000.
Hyundai Veloster - estimated 40 MPG highway - a 2012 offering coming from Hyundai that targets sporty design as well as fuel efficiency.
Smart - 33 MPG city/41 highway - offers three different models of the efficient two-seater. An electric version is also available to drive in the test drive area of the show's lower level.
Volkswagen Golf (diesel) - 30 MPG city/41 highway - makes the list (though above the $20,000 line) with the TDI Clean Diesel version.
This is largely a result of lots of small engineering decisions and improvements, the application of overall design rather than climbing behind something something wildly different in order to be transformative. The fruits of research into new vehicles leads to spin-off benefits that can be applied to all kinds of cars. Underbody panels (to take one example) help improve the aerodynamics of more conventional cars as well as the headlining green vehicles. The greatest results of green car programs may not be in the headline vehicles that provide manufacturers with the "green halo," but instead be from the application of those developments to the rest of that manufacturer's fleet.
image: Google Maps
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