At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week, carmakers unveiled an array of new green concepts and future production models, including what could perhaps be the first major hybrid release from Volkswagen: a gas-electric version of the popular Jetta aimed at helping to boost the nameplate’s standing in the United States. At an estimated 45 mpg combined, a successful Jetta hybrid would help Volkswagen meet rising fuel economy standards here and keep pace with its competitors, most of whom are well on their way to establishing a market strategy for climate where all major automakers will be forced to average 54.5 mpg by 2025 for their lineups.

Meanwhile, in remarks to the Automotive News World Congress yesterday, Roland Hwang of the National Resources Defense Council celebrated the remarkable turnaround carmakers have made in embracing fuel efficiency regulations rather than fighting them. “No longer is there a huge gulf between environmentalists and the auto industry,” said Hwang. “The latest clean car agreement brought together unusual bedfellows in an unprecedented and diverse array of support… from automakers to environmentalists, Republicans to Democrats, consumer advocates to energy security advocates, business leaders to labor unions.”

In order to meet 54.5 mpg by 2025, the industry will have to increase the efficiency of its cars by an average of about 5 percent per year, but those improvements will initially come largely from the internal combustion engine rather than alternatives like hybrids and plug-ins. Hwang estimated that in gasoline-only vehicles will continue to represent approximately 80 percent of the market in 2025.

“Adding a simple turbocharger direct injection to engines and cutting cylinders can deliver the same power and dependable performance while burning less gas,” said Hwang. “Automatic and dual clutch automated 8-speed transmissions shift faster and allow the engine to run at its sweet spot longer… These innovations are already moving from limited applications in a handful of models to widespread use on assembly lines in every auto factory.”

New fuel-saving technologies―be they hybrid or ICE―come with an added cost, to both consumers and automakers. But Hwang said that the increased security in the face of a turbulent oil prices will be worth the extra cost.

“In a world of unpredictable fuel prices, it is the predictability of stronger fuel-efficiency standards that has allowed the auto industry to assert control over its own destiny. Thanks to the 2009 agreement to raise standards to 35.5 mpg by 2016, the industry is much better prepared, more resilient and indeed thriving in the face of this past year’s record high gasoline expenditures.”