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DITCHING MEAN FOR LEAN: HORSEPOWER TAKES A BACKSEAT.

Byline: Brent Hopkins Staff Writer

At the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show, where growling hot rods once debuted with a roar, a quiet purr now rules the day.

Auto shows are typically swaggering, macho affairs, where carmakers display their showiest, brawniest vehicles. Horsepower rarely used and top speeds never attained on the street got the top bill, with even meek minivans' racier sides getting attention.

But with $3-a-gallon gasoline an all-too-recent memory in motorists' minds, manufacturers have an all new attribute to crow over: economy.

``With fuel prices going up, it's a whole new paradigm,'' said John Clinard, manager of public affairs for Ford Motor Co.'s Western region. ``It's not big, big, big, big anymore. People still want a certain size, but they're thinking about fuel efficiency.''

With import hybrids like Toyota's Prius and Honda's Civic Hybrid hot commodities, domestic manufacturers like Ford are shifting away from their reliance on heavy sport utility vehicles and into smaller, more efficient models.

As Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, used his keynote address on Wednesday to warn the industry to pay heed to the need for greater efficiency, his company trumpeted its Escape Hybrid and Mercury Mariner Hybrid, small gas-electric utility vehicles built on car platforms.

With 11 hybrids on the market in 2005, which J.D. Power and Associates said Wednesday represented 211,000 units sold last year, the technology captures only 1.2 percent of the domestic market. By 2012, the Westlake Village-based market research company estimates they'll encompass more than 50 models selling 780,000 units, 4.2 percent of total sales.

In addition, Power sees greater demand for cleaner-burning diesel engines, hydrogen fuel cells and improved-efficiency gasoline technology, such as cylinder deactivation. Anthony Pratt, the company's senior manager of global powertrain forecasting, said economy will be the new watchword.

``From experience, manufacturers thought that people would pay for horsepower, not fuel economy,'' Pratt said. ``But now they know that people will pay for economy, too. Gas prices really put a spotlight on that.''

Even General Motors' most-muscled machines have been rejiggered to make them less frequent visitors to the local gas station. Its 2007 Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon XL, both of which made their world debuts on Wednesday, boasted increased economy, rather than power.

Even stranger, the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 CQ Z-Zero-Six, a 505- horsepower, $65,000 sprinter that can go from zero to 60 in 3.7 seconds, records a surprisingly high 26 miles to the gallon on the highway. By use of an electronic lockout that requires drivers to shift from first gear to fourth and a sleek, low-drag body, the tire-smoking sled attains an economy normally reserved for staid family automobiles.

``Whether it's five years from now, 50 years, or 500 years when we run out of fuel, what are you going to do?'' said Mike Allen, vehicle line director for GM, which highlighted the Z06 that'll serve as pace car for the Indianapolis 500 this year. ``You've got to be more efficient.''

Brent Hopkins, (818) 713-3738

brent.hopkins(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

4 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- color) The new Ford Mustang is among more than 1,000 cars on display at the annual Greater L.A. Auto Show at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The show runs through Jan. 15.

(2 -- color) The new Mercury Mariner Hybrid, although still a sport utility vehicle, is a smaller gas-electric utility vehicle built on a car platform and will guzzle less gas.

(3 -- color) Even General Motors' 2007 Chevrolet Suburban, a traditional sport utility vehicle, boasted of its increased economy rather than relying on its horsepower, as in past years.

Gus Ruelas/Staff Photographer

(4 -- color) no caption (auto)

Box:

The Greater LA Auto Show
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 5, 2006
Words:623
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