Some may call it a variation on the low-hanging fruit theory. Others may call it a daft conclusion.

Either way, a recent editorial in Automotive News argues that stricter U.S. fuel-economy standards are actually restricting automaker investments in electric-drive powertrain technology. Instead, the logic goes, automakers are investing more in improving fuel efficiency of conventional engines. Turbocharging, valve timing and direct injection are among the methods companies are using to give the trusty old four-banger fuel economy numbers that rival regualr hybrids.

Companies are charged with meeting an Obama Administration mandate for Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. That equals just over 40 miles per gallon in real-world terms and is roughly an 80 percent improvement over what fleets are getting now. With demand for any alt-fuel vehicle not named Toyota Prius coming in fits and starts, nervous automakers are preferring to invest in boosting efficiencies of conventional engines, which at best convert just a quarter of their on-board energy into propulsion.

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