Sipping Sells at the New York Auto Show

April 4, 2012 | 11:33 am
Jim Kliesch
Former contributor

Judging from the early unveilings, the companies got the memo: Fuel economy sells. The mood is upbeat here on the Javits Center floor, with talk of a returning economy, industry profits, and the fact that the auto industry is poised to see its best sales month since 2008. And make no mistake, fuel-efficient products are playing a critical role. In March, GM alone sold 100,000 vehicles that achieve 30 mpg or better on the highway – making up 40-45% of its U.S. market share.

What a difference a policy makes.

Four years ago when prices spiked to $4 a gallon, a number of automakers – including the domestics – were ill-prepared to offer consumers fuel-efficient models. Compounded by an economic downturn, gas-gulping models stagnated on the lots while bankruptcy loomed in executive boardrooms. Now, with new industry-backed fuel economy and vehicle pollution standards rolling into effect, automakers and customers alike are embracing fuel-saving technology, and the industry is reaping the rewards.

It’s still early at the show, but already there’s also plenty of talk about the multiple avenues for cutting emissions and fuel consumption. A few examples:

  • Start-Stop Technology. This feature allows the engine to shut off at stop lights and in congested traffic, and restart on command within a fraction of a second. It has been in hybrids for years but is just now breaking into the conventional vehicle market in the U.S. Ford Motor Company recently announced pricing of a start-stop system on its conventional Fusion model. At a mere $295, it’s expected to cut fuel use by 3-4 percent, and possibly higher for drivers who are predominantly city dwellers. Expect numerous models from most, if not all, major manufacturers to feature this technology in the coming years.
  • Hybrids. Chevrolet just released its 2014 Impala, which comes in a variety of powertrain options including an “eAssist” mild-hybrid configuration similar to that seen on Buick’s LaCrosse and Regal sedans.
  • Diesels. Later today, Mazda is expected to show off its Takeri Concept, which features the company’s new SKYACTIV-D design, pairing an efficient turbocharged 2.2-liter diesel engine with a 6-speed automatic transmission and other conventional technology improvements. The concept is also expected to feature a stop-start system for saving fuel in gridlock, and regenerative brakes for capturing additional energy. The latter two elements makes one recheck the definition of a hybrid, though it’s important to keep in mind that concept vehicles are often loaded with features that don’t make the cut. The big story here is Mazda’s new diesel design, and that some, if not all, of these elements may make it to the company’s Mazda6 sedan in the coming years.

Anything at the show you’re interested in having us take a closer look at? Feel free to drop us a comment…