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USA: 5 New Year’s resolutions for green cars

What an interesting year for the auto industry! I certainly wasn’t bored as I ran around covering the dramatic events, which included the Japanese tsunami, a whole bunch of electric and hybrid rollouts, consolidation in the industry (the death of Saab and Aptera), controversy over government loans (to Fisker and Tesla, among others), the federal fuel economy standard of 54.5 mpg by 2025, and a cautiously optimistic sales year.

I had fun driving a bunch of the new cars, from the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf to the Tesla Roadster, the Buick LaCrosse and the Ford Focus. What’s in my driveway now? Why, none other than a pre-production 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid (left), a revamped vehicle that lets you pilot a pretty roomy family sedan and still claim 40 mpg around town and 38 on the highway. Come to think of it, that’s essentially the selling point of the LaCrosse, too.

In many ways, the fate of green cars is up in the air as the calendar turns. To clear the fog off the crystal ball, we’d need to know the price of gas for all of 2012, as well as the outcome of GM’s battery fire woes, the price of new rollouts like the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, and a thousand other imponderables. There’s plenty of material for New Year’s resolutions, that’s for sure. Here are five things I’d like to see happen in 2012:

1. Fuel economy rules: This is the year for GM, Ford and Chrysler to, finally, acknowledge that the way forward isn’t paved with gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. In late 2011, as Automotive News puts it, GM “is making more money than it has in its history, adding jobs and gaining market share.” The industry over all is looking at a 13.4-million-vehicle year. And why? Because it started leading with cars like the Chevy Cruze and the Ford Focus. Dodge plans to bring back the compact Dart next year as a Fiat-based 40-mpg 2013 eco-car, a very good idea (speaking as a Dart owner). Truck buyers are lining up for the F-150—the bestselling vehicle now—and they want the EcoBoost V-6 (derided by Car and Driver as “a hood-mounted tofu dispenser”) not the V-8s.

2. Pricing gets real: Let’s face it, battery cars are expensive, and it doesn’t make them any cheaper to use smoke and mirrors to hide the prices. Automakers do this by including the $7,500 federal income tax rebate in the boldface type it shows consumers. An example, from Tesla Motors, is here: The Model S at just $49,900! Oops, make that $57,400. The Fisker Karma just raised prices by a whopping $10,000 making this fledgling entry on the market $102,000 (for the EcoStandard) and $116,000 for the EcoChic. But those prices look better as $94,500 and $108,500. To jump start this fragile market, let’s forget the games and work on actually reducing the price of these cars. Everybody is saying that lithium-ion battery costs are coming down, OK, let’s reflect that in the hit to consumers.


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