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Detroit Auto Show’s Hot New Cars Are Meaner, Greener

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The new Ford GT is pictured at The North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, on January 12, 2015. Ford attempted to land a knock-out blow to its rivals at the Detroit auto show in revealing a dazzling new GT supercar. The annual car show takes place amid a surging economy, more jobs and cheap gas, a trifecta of near-perfect conditions for the US auto industry. Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images

When the doors of Detroit’s Cobo Hall open to the public later this week, visitors to the North American International Auto Show will discovered two striking supercars, the Acura NSX and the Ford GT. But only a short stroll away, they will also find a pair of battery-based vehicles from General Motors Chevrolet division: the second-generation Volt plug-in hybrid and the pure electric Bolt.

Bigger and Better Cars on Display at Auto Show 1:10

The roughly 45 new models making their world debut at the Detroit Auto Show this year “reflects the depth and breadth of the auto industry, and the way it’s recovered” since the depths of the Great Recession, says Mark Reuss, GM’s global product development director.

It also reflects the forces that dynamic forces both pushing and pulling on the industry. On one hand, there are tough new emissions and fuel economy standards that will reach 54.5 mpg by 2025 while requiring a sizable share of tomorrow’s new models be so-called Zero Emissions Vehicles, or ZEVs, like the Chevy Bolt.

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Chevrolet reveals their electric concept car Bolt EV to the media at The North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, on January 12, 2015. Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images

Then there’s the invisible hand of the marketplace. And, at a time when fuel prices have plunged to levels American motorists haven’t seen in more than half a decade, shoppers are rushing to showrooms to buy big pickups – such as the new Nissan Titan and Toyota Tacoma debuting in Detroit – as well as high-performance products.

Along with the Acura NSX and Ford GT, Porsche will show the public two of its most powerful models ever, including the 911 Targa 4 GTS. And Cadillac, at the upper end of the General Motors line-up, is introducing the new, 640-horsepower CTS-V sedan, the first model Caddy has ever sold capable of topping 200 mph.

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Porsche CEO Matthias Mueller stands with the new Porsche 911 Targa 4 GTS during a press conference at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, January 12, 2015. Geoff Robins / AFP - Getty Images

“We will be very responsive to the market,” said GM CEO Mary Barra, at an auto show media briefing. However, she said the maker will “stick with its plans” to roll out more of the high-mileage vehicles needed to meet the upcoming government mandates.

Whether that will be possible, however, is uncertain, warned Barra’s counterpart at FCA, the former Fiat Chrysler. At his own media roundtable, Sergio Marchionne said he is looking forward to an industry-government review of the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards scheduled to take place two years from now.

Of course, the situation could be very different by then. Today’s glut of petroleum could dry up, and seeing gas prices soaring past the $4-a-gallon mark could send shoppers racing for some of the minicars, hybrids and hydrogen-powered vehicles also debuting at the auto show.

“We’re clearly staying the course,” said Bob Carter, the head of U.S. Automotive Operations for Toyota Motor Co., which markets the world’s best-selling gas-electric vehicle, the Prius.

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Toyota reveals the new Tacoma midsize pickup truck to the media at the 2015 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) on January 12, 2015 in Detroit, Michigan. Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

Alongside the new midsize Tacoma pickup – which the maker has dubbed “The Beast” – is the new Mirai, the hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle it plans to bring to the U.S. mid-year. Toyota claims it is a better answer to zero-emissions requirements than battery-electric cars because hydrogen vehicles can deliver up to 300 miles per tank – and can refill in minutes.

Hyundai introduced its own fuel-cell vehicle last summer, and Honda is giving visitors to the North American International Auto Show a first look at the final, production-ready design of its hydrogen car, the FCV, coming in 2016.

The gap between the FCV and the NSX, produced by Honda’s upscale Acura brand, isn’t the yawning chasm it might seem. The “500+” horsepower 2-seater will be powered by a new hybrid system pairing a turbocharged V-6 gas engine and three electric motors. It is expected to be blindingly fast, while still delivering great fuel economy.

The Nissan Titan, meanwhile, will first come to market with a high-mileage diesel engine that could approach 30 mpg in some versions.

A star of the 2014 Detroit Auto Show was the next-generation Ford F-150 pickup, which represents almost 20% of the maker’s North American volume. But thanks to the use of aluminum, rather traditional steel, for its body, the new model is substantially lighter. Further enhancing its fuel economy, Ford offers an assortment of V-6 engines, including two turbocharged EcoBoost powertrains. The maker expects them to handily outsell the F-150’s fuel-hungry V-8s in 2015.

So, while the U.S. new car market may seem to be returning to its old ways, the reality is a bit different than appearances might suggest. Even though manufacturers are more than happy to meet the current demand for bigger, faster vehicles, they’re also finding ways to make those vehicles cleaner and greener.

And, for those who want products that are truly friendly to the environment, there are more of those on display at the 2015 North American International Auto Show than ever before.

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