New York Auto Show: Green Goes Mainstream (Finally)

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It used to be the Los Angeles Auto Show was considered the “green auto show.” Now with gasoline soaring towards $4 gallon gasoline, every auto show is a green showcase. At this week’s New York International Auto show, a staple of the annual car circuit, the spotlight will be not be on the latest muscle cars but instead on the hottest market segments, fuel-efficient hybrid electric vehicles and high efficiency, conventional gasoline cars that get 40 MPG or more. With no relief in sight for high gasoline prices, 2011 is shaping up to be a record breaking year for fuel-efficient cars.

The Market Has Spoken, and It Wants More MPG

Rising fuel prices have primed consumer demand for fuel efficient cars. According to Michigan-based auto market expert Alan Baum, March sales of hybrids rose 46%, almost three times as fast the overall market rate of 17.2%, compared to the same month last year. The market for highly fuel efficient small cars, such as the Honda Fit, rose 30%, almost twice the average rate. The worst performing segment? Traditional, truck-based SUVs, which grew at 7.2%, less than half the rate of the market average.

As I blogged previously, the market for hybrids may be reaching a tipping point as the technology matures, spreads to more models, and gasoline prices keep rising. Last week, the 1 millionth Prius was sold in the United States.

According to Alan Baum’s forecast, the number of hybrid models (not including plug-ins) is expected to double by model year 2012 from the current 22 models to 43 models. Kevin Riddell, an auto analyst at consultant J.D. Power and Associates, sees hybrids and electric cars market share almost doubling by 2012, to 4.5% of all new vehicles purchases by 2012 from 2.4% last year. With a possible 13 million total sales this year, this could mean hybrid sales are on pace to top half a million units in 2012, vastly exceeding the 275,000 units sold in 2010.

Many of this next wave of hybrid models will use an innovative new, lower-cost design called the “Parallel 2-clutch” or “P2”. This simpler system is being introduced on new hybrids this year by Nissan (M35 Hybrid), Hyundai (Sonata Hybrid), Kia (Optima Hybrid), and Volkswagen (Touareg Hybrid) and in near future by Honda (yet unnamed midsize vehicle), BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Porsche. According to a new Society of Automotive Engineer report, the technology can lower the cost of today’s dominant design by at least a third and probably more. As I was quoted in USA Today as saying, these low-cost systems are “system[s] for the masses that’ll really push (hybrids) into the mainstream.”

40 is the New 30 (MPG): 11 Models Join the High Mileage Club

As reported by Automotive News, there will be 11 cars offered this calendar year that achieve at least 40 MPG on the highway. This development is nothing short of remarkable, especially after decades of resistance from automakers to building highly fuel efficient cars. These engineers have accomplished what auto lobbyists have long said couldn’t be done. As the floor of the New York auto show will show, it already has.

Members of this exclusive but growing 40 MPG club are: 2011 Ford Fiesta SE Sedan; 2011 Ford Fiesta SE Hatchback; 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco; 2011 Hyundai Elantra; 2011 Smart ForTwo; 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan; 2012 Honda Civic HF; 2012 Hyundai Accent; 2012 Hyundai Veloster; 2012 Kia Rio; 2012 Kia Rio; and 2012 Mazda 3.

Long Term Fundamentals Strong: High Gasoline Prices, Stronger Standards

Hybrids and high MPG cars are likely to remain hot. Last week Moody’s, the credit rating agency, upgraded their outlook on the global integrated oil and gas sectors on the basis that soaring oil prices will “remain strong well into 2012.”

Equally as important, there is now near certainty that U.S. carbon pollution and fuel economy standards will be significantly strengthened. U.S. Congress no longer has a route to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or California from moving forward with model year 2017 to 2025 standards this fall. President Obama also recently announced a 33% import target cut which will undoubtedly necessitate stronger fuel economy standards.

This next phase of standards could result in average fleet fuel efficiency as high as 62 mpg. It will clearly accelerate hybridization of the fleet, with perhaps over half the market by model year 2025 being hybrids, according to joint US EPA, DOT and California analysis.

Beginning this Friday, as people and press file through the New York International Auto show, they will be seeing a lot of new designs, and a lot of innovative new fuel efficient vehicles. The market has spoken and automakers are finally delivering.

This guest post was contributed by Roland Hwang, Transportation Program Director for the Natural Recource Defense Council’s energy program. Based in San Francisco, he works on transportation energy and global warming issues at the state and national levels.


  • Greg

    I’m looking forward to going car shopping in a couple of years and having a wealth of 40mpg cars available to choose from.
    I tell everyone I know that they should think long and hard about their next car purchase and ask themself if they can afford that car on $5 or $6 gas.

  • Yegor

    Yes, definitely $5 or $6 gas is absolutely coming shortly if right now during the recession we have $4 gas.

  • jim1961

    I recently bought a 2011 Honda Insight and I love it. I did a lot of research before buying this car. There is great online article from Motor Trend called the 40 MPG club. It covers 20 new vehicles that get 40 MPG on the highway or city or both. I recommend this article to anyone interested in fuel efficient new vehicles.

  • Mr. Fusion

    Should we be impressed? 40 MPG+ was achievable in 1996 with my Civic HX 15 years ago.

    And that nonsense regarding the weight of new safety equipment is ridiculous. The 1996 Civic HX and new Fit have almost identical numbers, yet look at the MPG difference.

    What happened? Did Honda lose it’s notes?

  • Yegor

    Honda Fit is actually 14% heavier than Honda Civic HX 1996 Manual
    2575 lbs vs 2262 lbs.
    EPA rates Honda Civic HX 1996 Manual at 33 MPG city and 41 MPG hwy.
    EPA rates Honda Fit 2011 at 28 MPG city and 35 MPG hwy.

    But if you look what people report on fueleconomy.gov website it is around 37 MPG for both of them on average.

    EPA actually underrates Honda Fit 2011. EPA rating are pretty close in our days for most of the cars but sometime they miss it. EPA underrates most subcompact cars (except Ford Fiesta), Honda Hybrids and VW clean diesels.

  • Anonymous

    Sigh. You also have to take into account that, starting from model year 2008, EPA revised its formula of calculating mileage figure for window stickers. (Interestingly, the figure to be used for CAFE calculation remains unchanged, dating back from 1973, I guess.)

    EPA mpg 2006 / 2008 (city/hwy)
    Civic auto 30/40 -> 25/36
    Civic hybrid 49/51 -> 40/45
    Fit M5 (07/08) 33/38 -> 28/34

  • Anonymous

    According to NHTSA, 1996 Civic 2 door is rated ‘four star’ for both driver and front passenger in front crash test.
    In IIHS frontal offset test, a four door Civic is rated acceptable.

    I think it came with dual front airbags and ABS was probably optional.

    The 2009-10 Fit is rated ‘five star’ for both driver and front passenger in NHTSA front crash test.
    In IIHS frontal offset test, it is rated good.

    Nowadays, both NHTSA and IIHS publish side impact crash tests (including one to simulate being crashed by a truck), simulate for roll over crushing to push for ever safer cars.

    The current generation Fit comes with six airbags, standard ABS, VSA with traction control, active head restraints for front seats, electronic brake distribution, brake-assist (it brakes harder than the driver presses the pedal when it senses the driver is braking in an emergency), tire pressure monitoring system….

    Sigh.

  • Indigo

    It goes to show you that the carmakers could have *always* made fuel-efficient vehicles and have chosen to finally make what people want.

  • Yegor

    Yes, There was a huge shift to fuel efficient cars in March.
    Ford sold almost 10,000 Fiestas in March!!! I think that it is probably all time record sales for a subcompact model sold in US!

    Still lots of people do not trust Hybrids – it is very disappointing :(
    There is Honda Insight on the market that delivers 47 MPG (it is underrated by EPA) and costs only $18,200 but Honda sold less than 3,000.

  • Anonymous

    @Indigo, I guess it’s the consumers in the U.S. who finally embrace high fuel efficient vehicles without sacrificing safety or comfort or convenience (Smart flopped AFAIK; Suzuki/Geo Swift/Metro discontinued/disappeared from the market – I guess proved about a decade ago, when SUVs were selling like hot cakes, buyers didn’t care much about fuel economy, not necessary automakers couldn’t/didn’t make fuel efficient vehicles).

  • Anonymous

    From Reuters Breakingview:

    “Arab gas guzzling threatens global energy balance

    Middle Eastern demand for its own oil could be a bigger threat to the global energy balance than unrest in the region — at least long term. Rising demand at home threatens to limit Saudi Arabia’s key role as the world’s swing producer and could spell structurally higher prices for global markets.

    A Saudi official this month expressed unusual public concern about the nation’s energy use. Oil consumption, boosted by car use and air conditioning, has risen by half in the past decade to an estimated 2.7 million barrels per day (bpd) this year. Saudi Aramco, the national oil group, reckons demand could reach 8.3 million bpd by 2030.

    Currently, after exports and domestic consumption, Saudi has spare capacity estimated at 2.8 million bpd — a crucial buffer amounting to about 3 percent of global oil consumption. Aramco’s forecast suggests that could be fully absorbed by domestic demand this side of 2025. [...]“

  • Jim1961

    Mr Fusion,

    “…Should we be impressed? 40 MPG+ was achievable in 1996 with my Civic HX 15 years ago…”

    I owned a 1995 Honda Civic CX hatchback. I averaged 38 mpg in mixed driving. The problem with this car is that it was dangerously slow. If I tried to merge into traffic on the highway I could not get up to the speed of traffic if the on-ramp was uphill. This was with my foot mashed to the floor. Recently I bought a 2011 Honda Insight. It’s no race car but I can merge safely into traffic on the highway.

  • Mr. Fusion

    Yegor: Yes the Fit is a bit heavier, it was the closest match for comparison I could find. Regardless, the milage would be almost the same if the Fit was a bit lighter. Having owned the HX, I can testify that that with my lead foot, I got an average of 37-39 MPG in heavy commuting 1.5 hours each way. If I took it easy and really babied it, I could pull 450 miles out of my 11 gallon tank ( for all you nit-pickers, I left the 0.4 gallons in the tank just to be sure I wouldn’t be walking).

    SO, 15 years later and we got no improvements? Glad computers don’t develop this slow.

    Jim 1961: The HX had the VTEC engine from the EX, just detuned by 10 hp for better gas mileage. It’s also a different model year.
    Slow this car wasn’t! In fact, merging onto the highway was one of my favorite things to do, especially when the VTEC kicked in and you could hear the whine!

  • Joe

    $10.00 gas! seems far off, but it’s coming!

  • Joe

    $10.00 gas! seems far off, but it’s coming!

  • Anonymous

    Mr Fusion,

    A few of points to consider,
    - Honda Fit has more passenger room AND luggage room than 96 Civic HX coupe:
    passenger/luggage (cu. ft.)
    Honda Fit 91 / 21
    1996 Civic coupe 85 /12

    I guess if Honda Fit is designed as a (relatively) low-riding coupe, its fuel economy will improve;

    - contemporary vehicles are designed and engineered to be safer, Honda Fit has brake assist, ABS, VSA. Six airbags are almost standard in every new cars. It will also be safer in today’s world surrounded by heavier crossover/SUV/trucks.

    - lastly, the fuel economy of HX relies heavily on lean-burn, which is severely restricted in today’s tighter and tighter environmental regulations.

  • Anonymous

    As everyone knows, this 40 MPG thing is misleading. Most of these ’40 MPG’ cars get in the low 30′s in combined city/hwy driving. You still need a hybrid to get combined MPG’s at 40 and above. At Priuschat, drivers have reported that they actually get much higher MPGs taking their Priuses OFF eco mode in the city–they end up getting 56 MPG in the city. An Elantra will get 29 MPG in the city. With gas prices north of $5 in some states, that makes a world of difference.

  • tapra1

    According to a new Society of Automotive Engineer report, the technology can lower the cost of today’s dominant design by at least a third andPC Talk

  • Bob Selvan

    You are right and it something one can look into if one needs the info as soon as possible but I will check for you on google and see what we can find there