The Faster Lane

Why small cars are suddenly big business

Illustration by Todd Detwiler for TIME; From top: Subaru of America; General Motors; Chrysler Group LLC; Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. Inc.; Ford Motor Co.; Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. Inc.; Honda Motor Co.

Get better mileage, or else! That's the U.S. government's mandate to automakers, who must raise the average car's fuel efficiency to 54.5 m.p.g. by 2025--a whopping 100% increase over existing standards--to curb oil consumption. The quickest fix: Start thinking smaller. Minicars naturally guzzle less gas, and their makers are experimenting with next-gen batteries and engines (for example, the 1.5-L model powering the Prius C) to drive m.p.g. rates even higher. "There's great creativity in the auto industry right now," says Eddie Alterman, editor in chief of Car and Driver magazine. It's a good thing too, because getting SUV-obsessed Americans to go...

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