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USA: How automakers can prosper with new fuel rules

The new Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard, touted by President Barack Obama and the North American heads of 13 automakers at a ceremony in Washington on Friday, will be 54.5 miles per gallon in 2025.

But while the government sets the standard, it doesn’t tell carmakers how to reach it.

Instead of imposing theory, here’s what Detroit — as well as Tokyo, Seoul, Munich and every other car and truck manufacturer — needs to build. And forget the 2025 deadline. These cars and trucks should arrive by 2016 — a full vehicle generation away, in automotive years.

Alternative powertrains and fuels: There are loads of these vehicles in the works, and some eventually will make it onto the road. The Chevy Volt is electric and gas and gets great gas mileage. The Nissan Leaf is fully electric. And the 2012 Honda Civic offers a natural gas version.

Diesel cars have started to go mainstream and the introduction of the 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI and its 43 mpg highway number will make diesels even more popular. So it’s already happening. There are still countless avenues to explore — though hydrogen isn’t one of them.

200-mile electric car: This comes down to better batteries. In coming years, they will improve, but no one knows by how much. But someone needs to build and sell an electric car that can carry at least four people 200 miles without needing a recharge. And it needs to cost less than $25,000. That would have sounded impossible five years ago. Now, it might be a stretch, but between weight reduction methods, advanced aerodynamics and battery improvements, it just might be achievable.

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