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Demand surging for highest-mileage GM models

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Autoworker Maurice Vauss inspects the fit and finish of the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco during final inspection on the assembly line.

The surge in fuel prices has led to a huge shift in buyer demand, according to General Motors, the maker reporting it sold more high-mileage models than ever last month.

Demand for products delivering 30 mpg or better has grown so much GM recently had to up incentives on less efficient V-6 versions of several crossover-utility vehicles because it was running out of higher-mileage four-cylinder models.

“GM’s strategic investments in four-cylinder and turbocharged engines, advanced transmissions and vehicle electrification have been very well timed,” said Mark Reuss, president of GM North America.

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With the industry set to report March sales later today, GM gave a hint of what is happening as the market responds to $4 gas.  Sales of the 12 models it offers in the U.S. getting at least 30 mpg will total more than 100,000 for the month, an all-time record, the company said.

“Three years ago, about 16 percent of the vehicles GM sold achieved at least 30 mpg on the highway. Today, that number is about 40 percent,” noted Reuss, “and we have more new fuel-economy leaders on the way, including the Chevrolet Spark, Cadillac ATS and the Buick Encore.”

The dozen current models include the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, Chevrolet Cruse, Chevrolet Volt, Chevrolet Malibu, Chevrolet Malibu Eco, Chevrolet Camaro, Chevrolet Impala, Chevrolet Equinox and 2012 Buick Verano, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ratings.

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The automaker offers multiple powertrain offerings on many of those products, such as the Chevrolet Equinox and its near-twin, the GMC Terrain.  Demand for the higher-mileage I-4 models has now exceeded capacity – prompting the maker to recently add another $1,000 in incentives to try to get some potential buyers to opt for the V-6 models.

But the trend appears to be well-entrenched, according to most industry analysts, few expecting to see a significant return to lower-mileage models barring a wholesale collapse in fuel prices.  As a result, manufacturers are expecting to continue adding to their high-mileage offerings.

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In GM’s case, it will add still more all-new or significantly freshened 30 mpg-plus Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac cars and crossovers by the end of 2012.  Collectively, they will flesh out  segments that
represent 60% of the U.S. light vehicle industry.

The new models include the all-new 2013 Cadillac ATS 2.5-liter and 2.0-liter turbo I-4s, the all-new Chevrolet Spark and the four-cylinder 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, all of which are expected to achieve EPA estimates of 30 mpg highway or better when the ratings are released later this year, Reuss said.