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Detroit Auto Show 2011: Where is My Tree-Hugging Minivan?

detroit auto show 2011, ford c max

A mini-van that finally breaks 40 mpg. Good enough?

A couple of  months ago, I tweeted the following: “tree huggers with three kids (oxymoron?), car recs please?”

I got zero responses.

While that may have to do with the fact that I don’t have a lot of tree-huggers with three kids following me on Twitter, I think it also has to do with the fact that there aren’t a whole lot of vehicles to recommend. Cars are either fuel-efficient or they hold 6+ passengers. But not both. Or barely both.

Now, you can write in and tell me how your mini-van holds most of the soccer team plus groceries and it gets 17 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. But I ask you, 17? Twenty-five?

Can we honestly call that fuel-efficient? Jason Fogelson, About.com‘s SUVs and Minivans page editor does. But that’s not good enough for me.

The Mazda 5 is ranked No. 1 and those get 22/28 mpg. Sure, an improvement. But this is 2011. I can’t help but think after all the success of the Prius and other hybrid vehicles, after talk of hydrogen cells and electric cars and peak oil and global warming, there would be more and better choices.

Yes, I know. Bringing that third kid into the world I am speaking from a deep valley at the foot of the moral high ground. But still? Less than 30 miles per gallon (on the highway!) is the best a family of five plus one friend can do?

I scanned through a couple of slideshows from the Detroit Auto Show 2011 and it would appear this won’t be a year of options either. Next year, Ford is set to release full hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of its C-Max crossover vehicle. They hold seven passengers and will go, according to Consumer Reports, at least 40 miles on a gallon of fuel. Great in mpg news but 20 years ago, didn’t you think fuel efficiency would regularly hit much higher numbers than that?

It’s the kind of numbers, though, that I’d be willing to consider. I’m not a buy-off-the-lot consumer. I pick up cars once they’re a few years old. So while the C-Max hybrid will be at an auto showroom near you, one won’t be on my driveway for years to come.

I’m not one to worry about image or what it would mean about me and my lost youth were I become the captain of a minivan. Hell, I drive a 2003 Pontiac Vibe (36 mpg on the highway, P.S.). My back-up is a ’97 Ford Festiva (which burns through a gallon of gas once a year, I think.) I just want to be able to join a carpool, maybe take my mom out to eat, without my husband trailing in the back-up car.

I also want to be the kind of car consumer that isn’t moving backwards. I don’t care so much about built-in drink holders and, for crying out loud, a fridge in my moving acre of automobile (hi, Ford Flex!). I want to look forward and be part of the future, where fuel-efficiency means minimally 40 miles to the gallon and where far better outcomes are actually the norm. Where I can haul my over-populated family across town to a beach clean-up or a clean-air rally and feel like I mean it.

Are you frustrated with going on two decades of bad fuel efficiency? And, while I’m at it:

“Tree huggers with three kids (oxymoron?), car recs please?”

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