Slowly, the economic recession is winding down and consumer moods are improving.

Plus, today's new cars get better gas mileage than they did just a few years ago.

Is this year the best time to buy a new car?

According to several industry analysts quoted in The Detroit News, the answer is unequivocally yes.

Their confidence rests on the idea that all cars and trucks are getting better fuel economy now than they ever have.

But, they say, future vehicles--with better gas-mileage yet, as mandated by last year's EPA rules through 2025--are going to cost so much more that some consumers won't be able to afford them.

The EPA itself has said that vehicle prices will rise roughly $3,000 (in real dollars) between 2012 and 2025 to comply with the fuel-efficiency mandates.

That's not quite 10 percent of today's average vehicle-sale transaction price of roughly $31,000, according to TrueCar.

Future cars, the analysts fret, will not only cost more, but also sacrifice power and performance compared to today's vehicles.

They'll weigh less, and be more aerodynamic, but their engines are likely to be considerably smaller--and even advances like turbocharging or hybrid-electric propulsion may not deliver the blazing stoplight acceleration that U.S. buyers supposedly demand today.

Stll, auto engineers tend to be very good at working out ways to meet regulations that their company lobbyists screamed about, yelled over, and fought against.

(Auto companies, remember, fought essentially every single safety, emissions, and fuel-economy regulation ever proposed in the U.S. Many of those regulations were passed anyway; the world did not end.)

So we think the level of performance offered by future vehicles remains to be seen.

But the analysts' arguments ring true to some extent, especially on gas mileage. Averaged across all vehicles, the gas mileage of new cars is now pushing 25 mpg.

Early last year, we had already seen a 3-mpg increase since 2008--when the average was 18.5 mpg. Now, the March 2013 number of 24.6 mpg is a whopping 33 percent higher than in 2008.

In other words, trading the 5-year-old car you have now for a new car of the same size and type might save you one-third of your gasoline costs over the life of the car.

Hmmmmmmmmmmm ....


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