DETROIT – Despite an ailing economy and demands by environmentalists for more fuel-efficient cars and trucks, the 2003 North American International Auto Show showcased more high-performance and sport utility vehicles than in years past.

“Every company’s making SUV’s. That’s the trend,” said Engineering sophomore Rachit Jain, who attended the auto show’s Saturday opening. “Everything’s heading in the same direction,” he said.

Car manufacturers like Porsche and Lexus, which traditionally produce lavish passenger sedans, have also begun turning out new lines of off-road vehicles.

The 2003 Porsche Cayenne, the carmaker’s debut truck model, took center stage in the Porsche display while its traditional sport cars sat off to the side.

Lexus distinguished itself from other luxury car manufacturers by offering three lines of SUVs, including the four-wheel drive 2003 GX.

Mitsubishi spokesman John Bouvier said increased gasoline prices and recent advertisements linking fuel consumption for SUVs to terrorism have not discouraged companies like Mitsubishi from offering new models of “crossovers” – off-road vehicles that support an SUV body on a car frame, but typically burn more fuel than passenger sedans.

“Sport utility vehicles blended with sports cars is a definite intent of the auto industry,” he added. “Until the public’s not willing to buy them, (automakers) will make them.”

Although several manufacturers have worked toward developing new lines of hybrid cars – which save gas by operating on both petroleum and electricity – some showgoers said they still prefer the good looks, versatility and speed of SUVs and crossovers.

“(Hybrids) don’t have power. I want power,” Jain said. “If I spend $500 more on gas, that’s not going to do anything to terrorism.”

Even General Motors, who plans to release a line of hybrids in late 2003, placed more emphasis on its new sport truck, the Envoy XUV, than on its innovations in the hybrid sector.

“I would buy a hybrid. I’d even be willing to pay say, $3000 extra, if they made it in a minivan,” said Roger Wilkinson, who resides in Pontiac. “I have a family, and I need at least a van. A car this small doesn’t cut it,” he added.

But few people denied that fuel-saving technology will be widespread – and necessary – in the future. Mercedes is currently polishing up its fuel cell technology, an environmentally friendly form of propulsion that uses hydrogen instead of gasoline. The German automaker will test 60 fuel cell-powered vehicles this year, and plans to put fuel cell cars into full production in 10 years.

“Economically, it’s better,” Mercedes spokeswoman Leigh Ramos said. “From a consumer standpoint, all the inflation of gasoline (prices) wouldn’t matter.”

“(Hybrids) definitely makes sense for the future,” said LSA sophomore Elizabeth Mekaru. “It will be nice to know you’re not killing the environment.”

This year, no manufacturer plans to release any hybrid vehicles larger than a compact car. However, Ford is making a hybrid version of its Escape SUV – which averages 35 to 40 miles per gallon – for 2004. Lexus, the only luxury manufacturer to release a hybrid, will release the “green” version of its RX series SUV within three years.

The show, which has been held in Detroit every year since its inception in 1907, attracted 759,907 people in 2002. It’s annual Charity Preview raised more than $6.125 million last year for Detroit-area children’s charities.

“Overall, the auto show was amazing,” Jain said. “I really enjoyed the experience.”

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