A Rare Look Inside Carmakers’ Drive for 55 MPG (National Geographic)

A researcher at GM's facility in Warren, Michigan prepares to view lithium-ion battery components in a "glove box" filled with argon gas. (Photo credit: © General Motors)

A researcher at GM’s facility in Warren, Michigan prepares to view lithium-ion battery components in a “glove box” filled with argon gas. (Photo credit: © General Motors)

In the United States, the Obama administration is soon to set mileage standards that will force automakers to double the average efficiency of their fleets to 54.5 miles per gallon (23 kilometers per liter) by 2025. The European Union is driving beyond that goal, enacting carbon emissions limits that will require new car fleets to achieve 57.4 mpg (24.4 km/l) by 2020. Canada, Japan, China, and South Korea also ramp up standards starting in 2015.

Technology for this global efficiency leap is being developed in laboratories like GM’s Warren research center, described at its 1956 opening as “where today meets tomorrow.” The slogan applies well to the fuel economy research under way more than a half-century later. The next generation of cars will look much like today’s, but will weigh less, have better aerodynamics, and smarter systems that can ramp power up or down as needed.

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