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“The biggest trend that we’re going to see is SUV’s,” Detroit Free Press automotive critic Mark Phelan tells Kirk Heinze on Greening of the Great Lakes while previewing the 2017 North American International Auto Show. “The growth in that type of vehicle’s sales has been incredible; it’s outstripped what any automaker expected. And we’re just going to see more and more of it.

“We will see SUV’s of virtually every size and type, and we’ll see them getting the kind of fuel economy that frankly was unimaginable a few years ago thanks to lighter weight and engineering advances.”

Phelan says there’s a consensus among automotive industry people that sales of cars and trucks will remain strong in 2017.

“We’re not expecting another record year certainly, but another good year over 16 million units sold seems likely.”

Phelan says the Chevy Bolt is advancing electric vehicle technology with a range of 238 driving miles on a charge, and it’s priced more affordably than some similar models at around $30,000.

“So that’s really taking the pure battery electric car and making it appealing to a much wider group of people. And if they don’t say ‘yes, I’ll take a chance on electric now’ you have to wonder will they ever.”

Phelan says “unpredictable” is how many in the auto industry are viewing the Trump administration’s potential impacts on the business and that no one really knows what to expect. Import tariffs could drastically affect sales. And industry executives are also concerned about the direction of fuel economy standards and emissions regulations.

“Electrification and hybrid technology is going to move really into just about every corner of the market. Even if the administration reduces the regulations for higher fuel economy, all of these car companies have to sell vehicles around the world. So they would still have to develop the same technologies.

“Because of that, the Detroit automakers are a little bit reluctant to see the clock rolled too far back. In the past they had to develop one kind of vehicle for sale in the United States and another kind for sale around the rest of the world when everybody else that they were competing with was only developing vehicles to meet the full world’s needs and selling them here as well.

“So there are downsides to lower regulation even from the point of view of some industry people who generally don’t care for regulation. I think a little bit of moderation in the targets for fuel economy would probably make them happy, but I don’t think they want to see a reversal of direction by any means. What automakers want more than anything is predictability.”

Greening of the Great Lakes airs every Sunday evening at 7:00 on News/Talk 760 WJR and around the state each weekend via the Michigan Talk Network.

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