Performance, Not Efficiency, on Display at Detroit Auto Show

PBS' Hari Sreenivasan and guests share impressions of the North American Auto Show held in Detroit last week. Trucks and luxury cars were the focus, not electric and super-efficient vehicles. Debate on fuel efficiency standards is predicted in 2017.
January 20, 2014, 8am PST | Irvin Dawid
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What a change from last year's auto show that highlighted the new electric vehicles! Moderator Hari Sreenivasan notes that "there was such a push a few years ago about these small vehicles, these more efficient vehicles. And here we are rolling out trucks. They might be lighter, but they're still big trucks."

Guest Karl Brauer of Kelley Blue Book explains that "we have got technology now that is making trucks and SUVs get the kind of mileage that economy cars used to get. I think that is one of the things that you have to keep in mind when you look at the horsepower numbers and the performance numbers these cars are getting;" yet he also reflected on the different focus of this year's North American International Auto Show.

And it really was interesting to walk through the show...this year and see almost nothing...about...alternative, super-high-fuel-efficiency technologies. It was really more about performance and capability.

However, Dan Neil, auto columnist of The Wall Street Journal notes one exception, though fittingly in a truck.

The Ford F-150 is being built out of aluminum. This is a radical and risky step forward for the company that makes the most popular vehicle in America for 32 years running. I mean, they sold three-quarters-of-a-million of these trucks last year. They are going to make it out of aluminum. And it's going to save, on average, they estimate three miles per gallon.

His colleague, Joseph B. White, the Journal's Detroit Bureau Chief, explains one of the factors behind the performance focus, and what it portends for meeting the EPA's rigorous fuel efficiency standards

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.

Consequently, "(t)rucks 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," he adds.

Cheap, abundant oil resulting in what Dan Neil called "moderate fuel price pressures" will culminate in "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," according to White.

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Published on Thursday, January 16, 2014 in PBS NewsHour
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