Cheap gas doesn’t faze appeal of efficiency to automakers

By: Eric Czarnik | C&G Newspapers | Published January 20, 2015

 The Gen. 2 Volt has more range, better fuel economy, and the electric drive is also all new. It’s more efficient, it’s lighter and has more performance.

The Gen. 2 Volt has more range, better fuel economy, and the electric drive is also all new. It’s more efficient, it’s lighter and has more performance.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Although gas prices remained below $2 per gallon, automakers and suppliers at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit had plenty to say about making their vehicles less thirsty for fuel.

At a Jan. 12 press preview day, Sam Slaughter, president of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, said this year’s auto show is an optimistic one and a big one for the smaller sport-utility vehicle crossover.

“We’re seeing everybody kind of jumping into that space,” he said. “(It’s) definitely the year of technology. It’s just amazing how many less-expensive cars are getting all the technology now.”

According to several companies, the sport utility vehicle (SUV), or the crossover utility vehicle, continues to thrive as technology increasingly mediates the dichotomy between larger vehicles and fuel-efficient driving.

At the Ford Motor Co. display, sustainability communications manager John Cangany said automakers’ interest in SUVs was still evident based on the selection of vehicles at the exhibition. He added that the priority of his company was to achieve better gas mileage in a number of ways, including lightweighting, smaller engines and “using more power in a smaller way.”

“The trend that is interesting to me is moving from V8s down to V6s and now turbocharged four-cylinders,” he said.
James Hope, national manager for product communications at Kia Motors America, said the auto show’s 2016 Sorrento is the latest version of the model, which he described as the company’s best-selling crossover utility vehicle that sold more than 100,000 units last year.

Hope said he is very excited for the new Sorrento — one reason being is that it comes with three choices of engines.
“For the first time, it’s being offered with a 2-liter turbocharged engine,” he explained.

Hope said the 2016 Sorrento puts a big focus on “premiumness” and feelings of quality, heft and solidity. He said the vehicle also brings a quieter, more composed ride, he added.

Larry Nitz, executive director of transmissions and electrification powertrain engineering at General Motors, said his company has a long-term perspective, which is evidenced by the 2016 Chevy Volt. He said the new Volt, which he expected to appear in showrooms in the second half of 2015, is giving customers everything that they want from the vehicle.

“The Gen. 2 Volt has more range, better fuel economy, the acceleration feel is stronger, and it has a fifth seat, so five seat belts,” Nitz said. “The electric drive for the Volt is also all new. It’s more efficient, it’s lighter and has more performance.”

At the Toyota showcase, Toyota product specialist Maggie Clark said her company strives to save the planet, adding that it is “the global leader in hybrid technology.”

“We’re going to certainly continue that with our Prius family,” she said. “The Prius is the best-selling car in California. It gets 51 miles to the gallon.”

Clark said the Toyota display is also showcasing its Toyota Mirai, a zero-emission, hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicle. But she added that Toyota was also showing off larger vehicles like the Highlander Hybrid, which she said gets 28 mpg.

The North American International Auto Show will be open to the public Jan. 17-25 at Cobo Center, 1 Washington Blvd., in Detroit. Learn more about expo times and ticket prices by visiting www.naias.com.