By HUBBLE SMITH
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL ON THE WEB
Most American drivers realize they're going to have to trade their mean machines for green machines somewhere down the road, sacrificing performance for economy.
Gasoline prices have receded to $2 a gallon, down from a peak of more than $4 during the summer, but nobody believes they're going to stay there.
Crowds gathered around the Passion Cabriolet Smart car Friday at the Motor Trend International Auto Show in Las Vegas, squeezing into the two-seater that gets 33 miles a gallon in the city and 41 on the highway from a three-cylinder, 70-horsepower engine.
"Well, the (fuel) economy is so good on them, we almost bought one a couple years ago," Las Vegas snowbird John Cole said. "They're nice little cars. We're full-time RV travelers, so we're looking for something easy to tow."
He bought a Mini Cooper instead because it had more room and was slightly less expensive than the Smart car at the time, though the price has come down to about $17,000 from $25,000.
The Motor Trend International Auto Show showcased the latest in fuel-saving technology along its Green Trail. Some 25 models boasted fuel mileage of better than 30 miles a gallon on the highway.
Representatives from a variety of automobile manufacturers talked to people about how they can save money at the pump and promote a cleaner environment.
"People want to know fuel mileage," Toyota vehicle specialist Maria Siegert said. "The first question people ask, 'What does it get?' Then they want to know if it's on the lot. With the economy right now, people want to drive better fuel economy vehicles."
The Toyota Prius is the best-selling hybrid car on the market, priced around $22,000. The Yaris, the smallest car in Toyota's lineup, gets 29 miles a gallon in the city and 35 on the highway. It starts at about $12,000 for the basic package.
The biggest draw at the Toyota display was the Venza, an all-wheel-drive vehicle designed and built in Georgetown, Ky. The 3.5-liter V-6 version gets 19 miles a gallon in the city and 26 on the highway.
Fuel efficiency will become increasingly more stringent in the future, said Rick Ruane, inventory specialist for Ford Country in Henderson. Ford is coming out with the Fusion in 2010 and is bringing back the Fiesta in 2011, converting the European diesel version to gasoline, he said.
General Motors product specialist George Simenton said people are still looking at large sport utility vehicles, trucks and high-peformance cars such as the 600-horsepower Corvette ZR1 and the 2010 Camaro.
"People are still driven by need and even though gas prices are high, most people look at Corvettes," he said. "Those are cars that dreams are made of. It doesn't mean it fits people's needs."
Brian Wilson struggled to get in and out of the Smart car.
"When you're inside, it feels like it's bigger," he said. "I'd take it for a drive. I don't know if I'd buy it -- maybe for my daughter. I still like my truck."
The Motor Trend International Auto Show continues through Sunday at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for military, seniors and children.
Contact reporter Hubble Smith at email@example.com or 702-383-0491.