Smaller, Smarter, Slower; Economists Tout Efficient Cars at the Auto Show

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Byline: Andrea Tomer, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

There are cheaper and easier ways to boost gas mileage than hybrid technology, economists told car enthusiasts at the Washington Auto Show this week.

The strategies include stricter speed limits, smaller cars, higher fuel taxes and changing and upgrading existing vehicles with new technology to improve fuel efficiency.

Economists from across the nation Wednesday discussed the impact of gasoline prices on driving habits and the auto industry at a forum organized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.

You can save a lot more by using a smaller car, said Walter S. McManus, director of the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute.

Mr. McManus said buyers are increasingly investing in smaller vehicles, even though the pain at the pump has eased significantly in the past few months. Despite the relief, people aren't investing in bigger vehicles.

Although people are interested in buying smaller vehicles for their fuel efficiency, Mr. McManus said there are others who buy bigger vehicles for safety reasons.

But, he added, There is just as much evidence that using a large vehicle makes the other vehicles around it less safe when driving.

Since gas prices rose last summer, people have become more concerned with improving their fuel economy and gasoline use. Even though the price of gasoline has been cut to half of what it was last year, consumers are still being mindful of how much they are driving and using fuel. Environmental concerns also have contributed to the current conservation of fuel.

Last summer, whenever I was driving, I noticed that people were driving closer to the speed limit, said Thomas White of the U.S. Department of Energy. That was back when gas prices were higher, and even seems true today. …