Once a year automotive journalists from the San Francisco Bay Area gather to test drive some of the newest models on the market. This is my selection of the Top 10 I experienced at this year’s program.
While overall sales languished a mere 1.3 percent above the first quarter of 2013, high-mileage electric cars, plug-in hybrids, and clean diesels continued a torrid pace similar to what they were experiencing during most of last year. The only laggard in this group was gas-electric hybrids, which dropped almost 16 percent compared to last year, based heavily on declining sales of several Prius models.
In a somewhat surprising move, the entry-level Malibu LS now comes standard with a start-stop system, the first midsize sedan sold in the United States that is so equipped. Combined with refinements of its base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a new six-speed automatic transmission, the LS has a significant fuel economy increase compared with the outgoing model (now 25 city; 36 highway).
The global drive to reduce greenhouse gases and increase vehicle fuel efficiency is pushing automakers to reduce the size of their engines – while trying to keep all of attributes consumers expect from their cars. Engineers from GM, Porsche and VW have pushed the limits of technology to produce engines that are more efficient, meet increasingly stringent pollution standard and yet make better horsepower and torque than previous generations.
Whether you spend your time tooling around in-town or are venturing out on the open road, if you value paying as little as possible for each mile driven, then the Toyota Prius should be on your shopping list. Not many cars get the outstanding fuel economy of the Prius family.
Yes, you will pay a bit more for a hybrid versus a gasoline-powered car. But, if you are putting a lot of miles on your car or like the ability to cruise around town in pure electric mode like the plug-in version offers, then the additional initial expense will be worth it to you. The reliability of the Prius and being the market-leading hybrid should give you confidence that this car will be in your garage for many, many years.
ACEEE ranks the Top 10 environmental cars and finds smaller is better and small hybrids are best, although it found the smallest electric car sold in America as the best of the best.
Honda gives lie to the dire expectations of those who thought environmental correctness came only with sacrifice. With the 2014 Accord Hybrid, we have entered a new world of mainstream motoring: Look around at all the inefficient, uninspiring cars on the road. Given the option of driving the one that is ultimately efficient and surprisingly fun, who wouldn’t come up with the extra three bills?
If you’ve opted to purchase a 2014 Ford Fusion SE with the EcoBoost engine that ups fuel economy to 25/37/29 mpg, adding an additional $295 for stop-start to gain an additional 3 to 10 percent in fuel economy seems like a no brainer.
These are the 10 or more cars and trucks I’m looking forward to spending some time with in 2014. I hope they all make, but I probably should also have saved a spot or two on the list for some surprises. In 2013 we had a few of those and I’m expecting more in 2014.
These things do take time. Wishful thinking won’t get us there. Government money can help, but ultimately it can only play a minor role if the goal is the transformation of a fleet. Cars and trucks that are better alternatives to gasoline ones in every way will be the only way to make it happen. That’s the way gasoline won out over electricity and steam 100 years ago. That’s why diesel won out over gasoline in Europe 15 years ago. That’s why the Toyota Prius is the 10th best-selling car of 2013.
No one should doubt that 2013 was a breakthrough year for advanced technology vehicles, whether running on electricity, gasoline, diesel or some combination of the three. The choices expanded, prices dropped and infrastructure exploded (for plug-ins). This year presents an abundance of riches; as I wrote earlier, we (at least we in California) now have 10 pure electric vehicles to choose from–and 2014 promises and expanded roster of choices. I had the opportunity this year to sample more than half of those available. Add in plug-in hybrids and the list of EV choices almost doubles, while traditional hybrids, clean diesels and high-MPG gasoline vehicles ranks keep growing both in number and popularity.
One of the simplest ways to reduce vehicle fuel consumption is to shut off the engine when it is not being actively used. That’s where stop-start technology comes in, so get ready for its invasion.
The year 2013 is almost over and the auto industry is moving toward the best sales year in half a decade. High mileage electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and clean diesels are drafting along with the positive sales year and going beyond, with each segment besting the overall market as new models enter and draw attention. The expectation is for aggressive selling to continue through the rest of the year, but it’s a good time to regroup and declare the Top 10 winners for the year.
To sum up the day-long program and paraphrase the philosopher Heraclitus, the only thing constant about the future will be change. The 100-plus year-old auto industry is heading into uncharted territory as it grapples with change inside and out of the vehicle. Electronic technology promises to radically alter the interaction of the driver and vehicle, even as the propulsion technology and fuel shifts to new ground and, in some cases, necessitating new lifestyles. One thing is clear, “Future Cars, Future Technology” will be an ever-changing topic for years to come.
While price cuts and low lease rates have been moving electric cars like never before, resulting in “sold out” models and tight supplies at some dealerships, there may be a dark side to the deals. When discounts like this happen in the rest of the auto market and residual values drop, the impact on auto companies is clear. Profits on the discounted vehicles drop and the models are often dropped or given a redesign aimed at revitalizing or repositioning them in the eyes of the consumer. For new models, it is often the kiss of death.