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Source: AutoTrader.com
November 15, 2010

Most observers of today’s automotive industry suggest three factors that will boost the auto industry from its two-year decline. First will be the inevitable need to replace aging machinery. Second, new drivers coming into the marketplace; those new drivers may be newly licensed teens or a growing immigrant population new to U.S. roads. The third, and most often discussed, is the inevitable march of technology.

Whether that technology is focused on improved safety, efficiency or performance, the opportunity to capture one – or all – of the three is better today than ever. And proof of that was in full evidence at the Seattle Auto Show.

General Motors previewed the General’s most significant initiative since Chevrolet’s small-block V8 – the Chevrolet Volt. Shown in production form, and but weeks away from a Chevy showroom, the Volt – described as an ‘extended range’ electric – has the very real chance to change not only Chevy showrooms but American’s perception of General Motors. Most early reviews of the car have been uniformly positive, and based on the amount of interest generated in Seattle, that buzz is contagious.

Although Mitsubishi Motors’ full auto show display and lineup stayed home (since the downturn Mitsu, Nissan and Suzuki – among volume carmakers – have had a notably diminished show schedule), its team did bring the all-electric i-MiEV, a 4-door subcompact which has been well-received in the Japanese home market. Looking not unlike a 4-door bug, this smallest Mitsubishi boasts a generous greenhouse, with commensurate headroom, and room for four well-fed Americans. And the variant slated for export to the U.S., with slight increases in both width and overall length, should fit our drivers – and highways – even better.

With even NPR paying attention to Nissan’s forthcoming Leaf, the show crowd’s intense interest was certainly predictable. Perhaps less predictable was the amount of curiosity generated by Nissan’s new Juke. With a conventional – albeit turbocharged – four-cylinder drivetrain, the Juke enjoys/suffers styling that proves truly polarizing. Richard, a Nissan rep, suggests that “those taking the time to drive it really like it. And with optional AWD it should be a great car in the Northwest.”

Predictably, the Prius – now in its tenth on-sale year in the U.S. – was the center of attention at the Toyota display, with both a production example and a plug-in prototype sitting immediately in front of Toyota’s info center. The plug-in will extend the all-electric range of the Prius from one mile to fourteen, allowing for some shorter commutes to be done with little or no assist from the gasoline motor. As one observer sagely put it, “I think the price of gas is going to go up.” And when it (inevitably) does, Prius owners will be ready.

Although the pre-show buzz was appropriately centered on EV’s and hybrids, the diesel continues to receive attention from both a handful of carmakers and a growing number of car buyers. The Volkswagen Group, in the guise of VW and Audi, made compelling arguments for diesel versions of an all-new Touareg and A3 5-door. The Touareg benefits from one very sweet diesel V6, while the A3 (last year’s Green Car of the Year) adapts an Audi derivative of VW’s well-received TDI diesel four. As a substantial SUV, the Touareg promises highway economy in the mid-30s, while the A3 should deliver 40 highway miles per gallon. And both prove to be an absolute blast to drive and operate.

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