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Tech helps keep models off gas-guzzler tax

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Automakers are using new technology to wean their performance models off the list subject to the dreaded U.S. federal gas-guzzler tax.

Advancing engine technology now is making it possible to produce cars that are more powerful but also more fuel-efficient -- enough to avoid being subject to the federal tax that tacks up between US$1,000 and $7,700 onto the price of new vehicles with very low mileage.

Some top industry executives forecast the tax’s demise within a few years.

"You will see that going away," said Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA. "All the new engine technology will avoid the gas-guzzler tax."

The tax was aimed at discouraging people from buying the least efficient and most emission-spewing of cars. But automakers are using technologies such as variable valve timing, direct fuel injection, the ability to stop the engine at stoplights and other tweaks made possible by computers that now control power plants to squeeze more out of every drop of fuel.

Finding a way off the list makes good business sense: Those extra taxes can put a model at a competitive disadvantage if its rivals aren’t subject to it.

General Motors will have one less model on the list next year: It will stop using its high-end, 638-horsepower V-8 in the 2014 Corvette ZL1, which was subject to the tax. GM also announced that a new, more-efficient 450-horsepower V-8 will be the base engine for the iconic American sports car.

When that model is gone, the only GM vehicles subject to the tax will be the Cadillac CTS-V performance sedan, coupe and wagons that use the high-end V-8.

Excluding niche brands such as Rolls-Royce, Bugatti and Ferrari, here’s how other major car brands are faring:

Ford
Ford has worked its way off the list entirely. It had two models that were subject to the tax in the 2010 model year, but now technology has improved enough that it can produce a 662-horsepower V-8 for the 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 that isn’t subject to the tax.

Chrysler Group

Only the models in its small-volume, exclusive SRT performance division are on the list. They include Dodge Challenger, Charger and Chrysler 300.

Mercedes-Benz
The number of models that fall under the tax has been reduced from 17 in the 2010 model year to eight for 2013. One reason for the reduction: killing its super-premium Maybach division.

BMW

It has eight models on the list for 2013, but adding efficient six- and eight-cylinder engines to its giant flagship, the 7 Series with eight-speed transmission, got that model kicked off the list. The M5 and M6 are still there, but they've improved enough that the amount of tax to be paid has been reduced, spokesman Dave Buchko said.

Audi
The brand’s speedy supercar, the R8, remains subject to the tax, but Audi has managed to free the S5 and S6. Audi says it sprang the 2013 S5 sport sedan off the list by replacing its V-8 with a more efficient turbocharged V-6. Likewise, the new 2013 S6 banished its 10-cylinder engine in favour of a V-8.

— USA Today

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