SANDY — Thousands of people checked out the new cars and trucks at the Utah International Auto Expo in Sandy this weekend.
It's a chance to see the new models up close and ask a lot of questions. Probably the most asked is "what kind of mileage does this thing get?"
But prospective car buyers are asking another question more often these days. It's a sign of the times, and has a lot to do with the quality of our air.
Utah's famous inversion is here again. It's been bad for days, and will continue for another week or so. Automobiles are one of the major contributors to the problem.
Automobile manufacturers are designing cars and trucks that pollute less. At the Utah Auto Expo this weekend, many hybrids and electric vehicles from just about every manufacturer were among the vehicles on display.
"We have 12 models here in the U.S. and 24 worldwide, and we're getting 15 more in the next two years, all hybrids," Toyota product specialist Fred Shahadi said.
Ford has eight hybrids within its fleet right now.
"We also have the plug-in hybrids and the full electrics," said Conn Famuliner, a zone manager with Ford. "We are giving people the power of choice."
BMW is getting ready to release an all-electric car within the next few months. It's clear that the low- or no-emission automobile is now becoming a mainstream commodity; definitely not the novelty it once was.
"We've just sold our six-millionth hybrid and we're really excited about that," Shahadi said. "This went from you'll never sell 500. Six million later we're doing terrific."
Consumers take a number of things into consideration when they're planning to buy a new vehicle: price, color, style and fuel efficiency. Now, "emissions" is part of the equation.
"People, not just the manufacturers, are recognizing the real value of that as they go up and down the freeway and see signs that say 'today you ought to use mass transist, carpool with your neighbors.' You can do that with your own vehicle with the technology that we have available."
In places like Utah and Los Angeles, people are looking at inversion and considering the consequences of their vehicle's emissions on the environment.
"People, not just the manufacturers, are recognizing the real value of that as they go up and down the freeway and see signs that say ‘today you ought to use mass transist, carpool with your neighbors,' " Famuliner said. "You can do that with your own vehicle with the technology that we have available."
When hybrids and electric vehicles first were unveiled, the selection and style was limited. Now, the car makers are building them in every size and model. The consumers are demanding it; the manufacturers are responding.
"You don't have to have just a small vehicle, or just a commuter vehicle, you can have a luxury car like the Avalon or an SUV and still get great horsepower and amazing mpg," Shahadi said.
And there's a new player getting into the fuel-efficient, low-emissions game.
At Sundance this weekend, the start-up company Elio Motors unveiled this new prototype, three-wheeled vehicle.
It costs less than $7,000, and will get 84 miles per gallon. The company markets its cars to the environmentally-conscious consumer and many attending Sundance are certainly that.
CEO Paul Elio said the car emits 7,500 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide than the average vehicle.