Buying a `New Car'

THE Clinton administration is backing a drive that it hopes will result, about the time President Clinton finishes a second term (if reelected), in an automobile production marvel that so far has eluded the industry: a car that averages 80 miles per gallon of fuel even while approximating the size and cost of present passenger cars.

Announced in the same week was a 4.3 cents-per-gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax.

This juxtaposition was not coincidental: The administration, with backing from officials of several states, is encouraging plans of the ``big three'' American automakers - Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors - to collaborate on development, by 1998, of an electric-powered auto.

The race to build the car of tomorrow is engaging the skill and attention of individuals, firms, and governments in most industrial nations.

A good deal of effort has already been expended on the part of major carmakers worldwide.

They have come up with similar ideas as to what the car of tomorrow, or perhaps the day after tomorrow, should be like - from design to power sources.

It appears that those of us who just want a roomy, comfortable, well-powered passenger car that is aesthetically pleasing yet not too costly may have to adjust to a new auto era. We may have to accept tradeoffs: for example, less speed but more quietness, and more frequent stops at the ``pump'' but lower overall cost for propellent.

Optimists, including Mr. Clinton, expect the gasoline-guzzling, pollution-spewing vehicles that dominate today's roadways to be replaced by cleaner energy sources.

Arvin Mueller, a GM vice president, was quoted as saying: ``We haven't invented the right battery yet.''

Development of the ``right battery'' seems inevitable for two reasons: The world is running out of petroleum; and even if it weren't, Earth's atmosphere has about reached its limit of toleration for petroleum pollution.

It's going to be an interesting ride into 1998 for the auto industry, with a good possibility of a satisfying finish.

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