Journalists walk through the Ford display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mich. -- January 11, 2010
Journalists walk through the Ford display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mich. -- January 11, 2010 - 
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Steve Chiotakis: The North American International Auto Show gets kicked off today in Detroit. A lot of small, fuel-efficient cars in the spotlight. And meantime, the White House will unveil plans to make cars and trucks even more fuel-efficient. Marketplace's Sam Eaton is with us live in our Los Angeles studio to tell us about it. Good morning, Sam.

Sam Eaton: Good morning, Steve.

Chiotakis: So what does the White House have in mind?

Eaton: Well it's chosen nine projects together totalling about $200 million in new funding. Several are aimed at improving the fuel economy of cars, but the significant thing here is that most of the money is going to companies that build 18 wheeler trucks. Daimler Trucks in Portland, Ore., for example, landed about $40 million to develop better aerodynamics and hybridization for those long-haul semi-trucks. I talked to David Friedman with the Union of Concerned Scientists. And he says that trucking industry hasn't done much to improve the efficiency of its vehicles. So even small amounts of money can yield huge results.

David Friedman: With this money, I think we have a better chance of boosting the fuel economy of 18-wheelers by 40 [percent], 50 percent over the next decade and saving consumers tens of billions of dollars.

Now those savings, of course, coming from less fuel being used to ship the products that we buy.

Chiotakis: Yeah, so how important is the timing, Sam, of this announcement?

Eaton: Well on the one hand, you have the Detroit Auto show starting today as you mentioned. And there you're going to see just how much the industry is becoming focused on improving the fuel economy of the cars that are being offered. But you've also got continued high levels of unemployment, despite the massive federal stimulus effort. And that puts incredible pressure on the White House to lower those numbers. These projects, funded through a combination of stimulus money and private investments, are expected to create more than 6,000 new jobs. Not exactly Earth-shattering, but in these times, at least it's something.

Chiotakis: All right. Marketplace's Sam Eaton with us here in the studio. Sam, thanks.

Eaton: Thanks, Steve.

Follow Sam Eaton at @eatonsam