Detroit Auto Show promises better fuel economy, more options


With car sales accelerating at the end of 2011, the Detroit Auto Show is now under way and auto makers have their mojo back after all the bankruptcies and taxpayer bailouts of recent years. That means they’re presenting one neat vehicle after another.

Even if a vehicle has the same name as before, what’s underneath is very different in the new car market. Take the SUV market, for example. The era of truck-based platforms is just about done. There will be just a few choices left for those who actually need a truck axle as part of an SUV. Otherwise, an SUV will just be a styling point with the same underpinnings that could go in a car, a minivan or anything similar.

The other thing that’s now different is the engines. Ford has a manufacturing process where the same vehicle can have either a diesel, gas, hybrid, plug-in hybrid or electric motor as it goes down the production line. That gives automakers the versatility they need as they push us step by step into more energy-efficient vehicles.

One of the areas that will be a steal this year are mid-sized vehicles because there are so many new choices. All the new blood ensures a fierce fight for market share in what is the largest part of the vehicle market. Meanwhile, Ford is having trouble moving smaller vehicles. They’ve priced the Fiesta and the Focus at a point where they’re just about what a mid-size vehicle costs.

The other thing that’s coming are all the alternative engine technologies like the plug-in hybrids. Being able to buy a roomy car that has the acceleration you want but with effective fuel economy of 55 – 80 miles per gallon has a lot of people excited.

For example, Toyota has a new urban version of the Prius called the “c” that will average around 53 mpgs and price out for less than $19,000.

Incidentally, the first six months of this year will probably be the last time when buying a new car will be more of a deal than buying a 2-3 year old, as has been the historical pattern. This will be the “year of the buyer,” not the seller, because the quality, fuel economy and reliability of vehicles will be the best they’ve ever been!

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