Right now, as you probably know, American car manufacturers are struggling just to hold on. General Motors couldn’t continue as a company without a large infusion of cash from the federal government, and while other US automakers are in slightly less dire straits, on the whole the entire US car industry is experiencing a sea change. Fuel efficiency is a large part of the equation but it’s not the only part. I don’t think that auto manufacturers either in the US or Asia doubt that fuel efficiency is something that consumers are asking for in increasing numbers. Yes, there’s still a market for the big SUV “status vehicles” that you still see lumbering along the roads, and I’m sure US automakers will continue to fill that demand, but they’re also developing fuel efficient cars that they hope to slice into Asian manufacturer’s market shares. For example, GM has been working on the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid vehicle, for several years now and finally hopes to debut the car in November 2010 where it’s expected to compete with Toyota’s popular Prius. Development of a car from concept to showroom floor is a process that can take years and automakers can’t shift on a dime. So the models that we’re seeing coming out now were on the drawing board 5, 6 or even more years ago, when fuel efficiency was just starting to become a dominant market force; naturally the American manufacturers are slower to keep up. Toyota’s recent high-profile troubles may prove to be a blessing to US automakers. If they can push American-made cars as being safer than Toyotas and competitive in the field of fuel efficiency, we may see a significant uptick in US-made auto sales during 2010.
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