Alan Baum has to shout into the phone for me to hear him over the cacophony of the Detroit Auto Show, which opened Monday. Around him, thousands of journalists swarm from one new car to the next, lights flash, DJs spin, and the cream of the world’s automotive crop glistens. “A lot of show and not a lot of substance,” Baum, an industry analyst, jokes.
Just to look around at the “performance” cars on display here, from hulking pickups to lightning-fast sports cars, you might not be able to tell that this is the first major car show in Detroit since the introduction last fall of President Obama’s new fuel-efficiency standards, which will require all cars and light-duty trucks to operate at 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, nearly doubling current requirements, a move the administration predicts will save Americans nearly $2 trillion at the pump. The cars below are a few being featured this week in Detroit that are already taking steps in that direction.
Let’s be honest: No one is buying one of these for the great gas mileage. It’s more like the car you fantasize about from the age of 14 and take a soul-sucking job on Wall Street just to afford. But the simple fact that the Stingray, one of the gas-guzzling belles of the Detroit ball, takes even one step in a green direction is a sign of how deep the efficiency paradigm has penetrated the auto industry, says Don Anair, an analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists. Ironically, high-tech fuel-management equipment in the engine actually adds weight to a car that has traditionally tried to shave pounds wherever possible for the sake of speed.
While it’s true that the Detroit show has its of share super-green cars (like the futuristic Tesla Model X and a marked-down version of the classic Nissan Leaf), Baum says the real progress is on prioritizing fuel efficiency on updates to familiar models that used to be all about style or power. Fuel-efficiency standards and record-high gas prices be damned; in Detroit the floor is still packed with muscle-bound models, but a recent analysis by Baum’s firm found that from 2009 to 2013, the number of popular vehicles with improved fuel efficiency more than doubled, from 28 to 61, of which only a third are tiny subcompacts.