Carmakers invest in efficient gas-sipping cars

The Chevrolet Cruze Eco at the New York Auto International Show in New York City.

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Kai Ryssdal: Crude closed lower in New York today, off about a percent and a half or so. But seeing as how oil prices are still in the triple digits, that's a little bit of false promise. Gas prices are higher as well.

All of which has people -- and carmakers -- interested in fuel efficiency once again. Marketplace's Alisa Roth reports they're finding it in a familiar place: the good old internal combustion engine.


Alisa Roth: Talk fuel-efficient vehicles and most people think hybrids, electrics or hydrogen cells. But alternative fuel vehicles only account for a tiny percentage of car sales. Carmakers know there's an easier way to improve fuel efficiency.

John Casesa's an investment banker who specializes in the auto industry.

John Casesa: The fastest, highest reward and lowest risk path to a cleaner car is the improvement of the internal combustion engine. And auto companies around the world continue to spend the preponderance of their R and D dollars on this.

He says a new take on the regular old gas engine vehicle can be a win-win. Carmakers don't have to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. And they're cheaper to produce, so car buyers can get better fuel economy for much less. The latest example is the compact Chevy Cruze Eco, which went on sale in January.

Chuck Russell is one of the car's engineers.

Chuck Russell: Strategy really was to get a great look and a well-equipped vehicle that got great fuel economy.

The new Cruze gets 42 miles per gallon. Engineers took the existing Chevy Cruze and made it lighter, more aerodynamic, and tweaked the design of the transmission and tires.

Russell: There isn't anything there that I would describe as rocket science. It's just been a very, very tactical pointed use of technology where it was necessary.

And with a base price of $17,000, the Cruze is certainly cheaper than GM's much-vaunted Volt, which starts at more than twice that.

I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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