Thursday
October 30, 2014

2013 Autos: Mileage Matters

|

2013 Autos: Mileage Matters

When it comes to hybrids, electric powered vehicles, and diesels, 2013 could be a breakthrough year in the U.S. market.

“Fuel economy is the No. 1 concern of buyers,” says Ford’s new Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields, and that’s all the more true for real estate practitioners, who spend a good part of their week behind the wheel. The latest in a long-running series of studies by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute finds that the typical car is now delivering better mileage than ever before. But the better news is that you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice comfort, convenience, or legroom to improve your efficiency.

Consider the new-for-2013 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S. The all-wheel-drive sports car delivers a marked improvement in power compared to the outgoing model, even as mileage jumps more than 15 percent. You can tell a similar story about almost every new product on the market. As we earlier noted, the new three-row Nissan Pathfinder gains 30 percent compared to the old 2012 model.

There are a variety of reasons behind these improvements. Even conventional gas-powered products makers are slashing vehicle weight, and the general rule of thumb is that every 100 pounds translates into about one extra mile per gallon. The industry also is migrating to more advanced powertrain designs, such as the direct injection used in the new Honda Accord V-6 and the turbocharging technology that’s at the heart of the various Ford EcoBoost engines. Ford will offer a new 1.0-liter EcoBoost on the updated Fiesta model that will deliver significantly more power than the current 1.6-liter naturally aspirated engine, even though mileage expected to be well in excess of 40 miles per gallon will likely be the highest of any non-hybrid model sold in the United States.

That said, expect to see more hybrids and other battery-based vehicles in 2013 and beyond. By the end of the new model year, virtually every maker in the U.S. market will have at least one “electrified” offering. Toyota and its Lexus brand will offer hybrid versions of virtually every model. Toyota has also just launched its first pure battery-electric vehicle, the RAV4-EV, as well as a plug-in version of the Prius.

Honda will add a plug-in version of the Accord and a full battery-powered Fit. Nissan, meanwhile, is working up a hybrid Altima and will have a battery car for Infiniti in 2014, though the Leaf will remain its primary electrified model this coming model year.

Detroit is expanding its battery-model mix as well. GM’s Chevy brand will add the new Spark EV minicar alongside the Volt plug-in, currently the nation’s best-selling advanced propulsion vehicle. Ford is rolling out an array of new battery-based products, such as the C-Max and Fusion hybrids and Energi plug-ins.

Japanese makers were first to market with hybrid technology, and Toyota remains the dominant player from a sales perspective — especially having expanded its Prius “family” to include the plug-in and the new compact Prius C hybrid. But Europeans are rapidly expanding their lineup; even Porsche is offering hybrid versions of its Panamera four-door coupe and Cayenne crossover models. Among more mainstream offerings, there’s the new Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. That said, European makers are well aware that American motorists have less than fully embraced battery technology so far. Add all the hybrids, plug-ins, and BEVs together, and they still account for less than 3 percent of the total U.S. new car market.

No wonder, then, that European makers are expanding their lineup of diesel powertrains. Audi will adding four new models for 2013. Also, VW is trying to boost capacity at its new U.S. assembly plant. Currently, about 20 percent of its midsize Passat models are coming with diesel technology. VW Group of America CEO Jonathan Browning believes that could soon top 30 percent. For those who tend to do more highway driving, diesels tend to deliver better mileage than most hybrids — and even in urban settings they’re close, while sacrificing little in terms of performance.