Trending at Detroit Show: Bigger, Faster, Lighter Autos
Every year, Detroit's auto makers use their hometown auto show to telegraph views about where the car business is headed. This year's message: advanced technology means bigger, faster and lighter.
At General Motors Co.'s Chevrolet booth, redesigned large sport-utility vehicles and new Colorado pickup are front and center. Also up front is the 625-horsepower Corvette Z06. Further in, there is a lineup of Camaro muscle cars. Tucked away in alcove are a couple of Volt hybrids.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden stopped to admire the Corvette, and reminisced about burning rubber in his 1967 Stingray. 'What a difference five years makes,' Mr. Biden said to auto executives.
No doubt about that. The point of view from the auto show today compared with 2009 is profound, affecting the kinds of cars and trucks consumers will be offered in the years ahead. Except those cars and trucks aren't exactly what federal regulators had in mind when they called on auto makers to design vehicles for 2025 that could average 54.5 miles on a gallon of gasoline.
Five years ago, President Barack Obama pushed Detroit auto makers to use $80 billion in taxpayer money to build fleets of American-made compact cars and plug-in hybrids--like the Volt. In 2011, auto executives signed on to the administration's plan to more than double fuel efficiency over the next 10 years. With some experts predicting gasoline prices hitting $6 a gallon or more, it made perfect sense at the time.
The shiny SUVs, trucks and luxury cars displayed in Detroit this week suggest that future won't arrive on schedule.
Between 2008 and 2010, the U.S. did move away from its historical preference for bigger and faster vehicles. The average horsepower and weight of new vehicles sold in the U.S. dropped, and average fuel efficiency rose, says the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2008, the average new vehicle had 219 horsepower and got 21 mpg. In 2009, power fell to 208 horsepower while mileage rose to 22.4 mpg.
What changed? The shale oil revolution has sidelined worries that we are condemned to an endless upward spiral in pump prices. In response, car makers are dialing down efforts to persuade mainstream consumers to embrace electric cars, and instead are racing to develop technology and materials that allow them to offer large, comfortable and fast vehicles that are more efficient.
Demand for SUVs and pickups is growing. Trucks accounted for more than half of all light vehicles sold in the U.S. last year, a reversal from the prior year. The shift coincided with lower fuel prices.
When 2013 numbers are tallied, the EPA projects that vehicles will get heavier and horsepower will match the all-time high. But here's a surprise: fuel efficiency could rise, too. It just may not rise as rapidly as the EPA rules will demand.
The current trends point to a new and intense debate over federal fuel economy regulations leading up to a 2017 review of whether the regulation calling for a 54.5 mpg fleet in 2025 make sense where oil is abundant and relatively cheap.
Despite a surge in the number of hybrid and plug-in vehicles offered in the U.S., sales of such vehicles are stuck at about 3% of the market, of which roughly half are members of the Toyota Prius family. Tesla Motors Inc.'s Model S has demonstrated affluent, tech-savvy consumers will buy electric cars. But Tesla's $70,000 and up cars are a niche product.
Mainstream car makers are increasingly worried that without higher gas prices, U.S. consumers won't pay for the technology and exotic materials required to make a big truck or a family-sized SUV efficient enough to meet federal muster in 2025. Adding to the anxiety is that for auto makers, 2025 is just around the corner--barely two model cycles away from cars and trucks that are being locked in today for debut at the 2017 Detroit show.
'I appreciate the vision of the administration wanting to lead the industry and consumers to higher mileage cars,' says Jim Lentz, head of Toyota Motor Corp.'s North American operations. 'Consumers have to be willing to accept that.'
As things are, he says, 'there's going to be a disconnect.'
在通用汽车公司(General Motors Co., GM)的雪佛兰(Chevrolet)展区，重新设计的大型运动型多用途车(SUV)和新款Colorado皮卡被放在最重要的位置。625匹马力的科尔维特(Corvette) Z06的位置也很显眼。再往里是一组科迈罗(Camaro)大功率高速中型车。靠墙角的则是几台Volt电力车。
美国副总统拜登(Joe Biden)在科尔维特Z06前驻足欣赏，回忆起当年他驾驶1967年款的科尔维特Stingray时轮胎烧焦的味道。拜登对汽车公司高管们说：这五年变化可真大。 纽约时报中英文网 http://www.qqenglish.com
美国对体积大、速度快的汽车情有独锺，但这种传统在2008年至2010年发生改变。美国国家环境保护局(Environmental Protection Agency)说，这段时期销售的美国新车的平均马力和重量均有所下降，而平均燃油效率有所提高。2008年销售的新车平均马力为219匹，每加仑燃油行驶英里数为21英里。2009年新车平均马力降至208匹，每加仑燃油行驶英里数增至22.4英里。
尽管美国混合动力车和插电式混合动力车供应量飙升，但此类车的销量却固定在了市场总销量的3%左右，而且其中约一半都是丰田汽车公司(Toyota Motor Co., 7203.TO)的普锐斯(Prius)系列。Tesla Motors Inc.生产的Model S证明了懂技术的有钱人会购买电动车，但售价7万美元甚至更高的Tesla汽车毕竟只是小众产品。