Leave it to Japanese carmakers to be out of the gate a little faster than their Detroit competitors. The latest evidence of their quickness: two new "hybrid" vehicles, combining gasoline and electric propulsion, which should reach showrooms later this year.
Such cars are the first glimmers of a new automotive day, when a ride down a busy interstate highway won't mean exhaust fumes and damage to the atmosphere. Hybrids are designed to get super-high gas mileage, 50 m.p.g. and up, with greatly reduced tailpipe emissions.
The ultimate, of course, is the zero-emissions vehicle, powered either by improved electric engines or hydrogen fuel cells. It's way down the road yet.
US carmakers, helped along by substantial federal funding, are in the running. But their current emphasis on diesel/electric hybrids may need rethinking. Even improved diesels are relatively dirty.
The critical rethinking, however, will be yours and ours. Car buyers need to put fuel efficiency and cleanness higher on their checklists.
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