Even though auto shows pimp futuristic concept cars and whiz-bang features each year, the auto industry moves at a glacial pace. That’s why President Obama’s approval of new standards that will double the average fuel economy of vehicles to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 is big news. Even though the electrification of the American automobile grabs a lot of headlines, the number of Nissan Leafs and Chevy Volts sold in 2011 isn’t likely to break 20,000. As a whole, Americans bought 10 million new cars in 2010. It took the Prius ten years to gain any real sales momentum in the U.S., and it didn’t require an entirely new fuel system (a plug instead of a pump). So for the foreseeable future, most cars on the road will have an internal combustion engine. The technology exists to greatly improve the efficiency of conventional engines, now it’s a matter of making it a requirement. That will mean finalizing these new standards, which are likely to get whittled down (maybe as low as around 40 MPG) during political and industry wrangling in 2012.
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