Efficiency, style and power compete for buyers’ attention at the Detroit Auto Show

Tyrel Linkhorn

Americans can’t seem to make up their minds on what they want in vehicles. Mileage, practicality, super-powerful V8’s – they are all represented among America’s best-selling cars.

The ongoing battle between fuel mileage and power was evident at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which concluded yesterday.

Toyota unveiled a hybrid version of its Camry, one of several new foreign cars to add a hybrid version to their lines. Also scheduled to become available to consumers later this year are hybrid versions of the Lexus GS450 and the Nissan Altima.

A contrast to all the hybrids was the new Dodge Challenger, which is a retro rendition modeled after the 1970 original. The release of the Challenger follows Ford’s huge success with its new Mustang. Chevrolet also jumped on the retro muscle car bandwagon, reviving the Camaro with a concept based off of the 1969 model.

The prominence of the muscle car is part of a trend that puts style before efficiency in new car purchases. Despite rapidly increasing gas prices, Tom Saccone of Courtesy Auto World in Ravenna estimated only about 25 percent of his buyers see fuel economy as a main buying point.

“People adapt to the prices that are charged,” he said. “And they see the rest of the world having it a lot worse.”

Klaben Ford in Kent also has seen no increase in sales of vehicles geared toward fuel economy, General Manager James Bills said.

Even Honda, a company well known for producing fuel-efficient automobiles only sees about 40 percent of their customers who say fuel economy is their No. 1 concern, said Chad Willis, of Mike Pruitt Honda in Akron.

However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Although New England and California have the highest allotment of hybrids, there is a market for hybrids in Northeastern Ohio, dealers said.

Bills and Willis said their dealerships have generally sold any hybrids they received before the cars even hit the lot.

Klaben has sold three Ford Escape hybrids, the manufacturer’s only hybrid model currently available. A hybrid version of the new Fusion is probably two to three years away, Bills said.

Eventually, most manufacturers will come out with hybrid versions of their cars, Willis said.

“We all hope manufacturers down the road can find alternative sources or squeeze more from existing technology,” Bills said.

Contact news correspondent Tyrel Linkhorn at [email protected].