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I was speaking to Sam Hardy last week.

Sam writes many of the road tests for Business Car Manager. His full time job, though, is at the excellent weekly, Auto Express.

Sam was lucky enough to go out to Detroit. It was his first Detroit show: with Detroit and its motor industry on its knees, what a time to visit.

Sam told me that the place was full of new fuel-efficient American cars, including plenty of petrol-electric hybrids. At the presentations, the motor corporation big wigs would explain about the wonderful 44mpg.

To which Sam and the rest of the Euro press motoring writers would go: ‘so?’. Hardly impressive seeing as that’s fairly much the norm for European cars.

Poor old Ford, GM and Chrysler. They’re stuck between a rock and a very hard place. When the cost of ‘gas’ was low, all US buyers wanted were big pick-up trucks. As the price of oil went up, they deserted the big trucks for something more fuel efficient.

And now, just as they produce all these fuel-sipping (by US standards) cars, the price of fuel starts to drop again. Talk about timing…

But in many ways the US big three car makers have only themselves to blame. As far as I can see they just blow hot and cold on research and development of alternative and more fuel efficient power units.

Back in the late eighties I had a chance to drive a Ford electric vehicle. One of many new-tech cars Ford said it was developing.

It was a prototype. But it was great. The power was instant. Press the pedal for go, lift off for stop. Fantastic.

But what happened to it? No doubt a victim of the good times/low oil price decades. And it’s not just Ford. GM and Chrysler are equally guilty. And now the economic slump has left them badly exposed.

Of course, the Euro car makers – and the Asian ones – are all suffering at the moment. But the point is this: these carmakers develop new fuel-efficient products alongside the rip-snorting powerhouses in a more balanced product portfolio.

So BMW has everything from a 5.0-litre V10 M5 to a BMW 118d that can do over 60mpg and sits in the 13% company car tax band.

Ditto Audi. There’s everything from Audi’s 435PS four-wheel S6 quattro to the ultra frugal A3 TDIe – another car to bust the 60mpg barrier and enter the 13% company car tax band.

And then there was this: the new Audi A7. Not that Audi called it that when the company unveiled it at the Detroit show. Audi calls it a Sportback concept.

But essentially its an upmarket five-door with coupe-styling – very much like the coupe-styled four-door Mercedes CLS.

The A7 features a new 3.0-litre TDI engine. Audi says it has the world’s cleanest diesel technology: 225PS and 550Nm, plus 47.8mpg and CO2 emissions of 156 g/km (a 22% company car tax banding).

This new luxury concept features engine start/stop system, energy recuperation under braking, low power consumption electromechanical steering and low rolling resistance tyres.

All of which we can expect to see on a luxury production car this time next year.

Ford, GM, Chrysler: you have some catching up to do.

New Audi A7 revealed

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