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1st Gear: U.S. sales of hybrid and electric vehicles rose nearly twice as fast in the first three months of 2011 as the auto market as a whole, according to Edmunds. Bolstered by rising gas prices, hybrid and electric car sales increased 37% in the first three months of the year to 78,523 vehicles. To put that number in perspective, that's a couple thousand more units than Ford, just one automaker, sold in just the month of March. But hey, it took eleven years for Toyota to finally sell 1,000,000 Priusissies in the United States. To put that number in perspective, Ford sold 1.2 million trucks and SUVs during the 2010 calendar year alone. Again, just sayin'...


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2nd Gear: Auto leasing, the popular financing option that dried up with the credit market, is back, baby โ€” and it's another sign of an improving economy and a recovering automotive industry. That's good news for consumers attracted to leasing because it sometimes offers lower monthly payments plus a new car every couple of years. Automakers and dealers like leasing because it drives sales and keeps customers coming back to showrooms.


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3rd Gear: And speaking of swapping your ride every so often โ€” for some fun on a "hump" day morning, try replacing the word "Ride" in Ford's press release announcing the return of "Swap Your Ride" with the word "Wife." Trust me, I almost feel like Ford's PR team wrote the press release to do just that. The press shot of Mike Rowe giving his best dirty job look to a desperate-looking suburban housewife that accompanies the release doesn't hurt that theory.


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4th Gear: According to Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, Fiat will lose $10,000 on every Fiat 500 EV it sells. "The economics of EVs simply don't work. On the 500 that (Chrysler) will begin selling in the U.S. next year, we will lose over $10,000 (per unit) despite the retail price being three times higher" than a version of minicar with an internal combustion engine, Marchionne said. But the ridiculousness of the finances won't stop the automaker from launching the Chrysler-built electric version of the microcar in the United States next year. Why? Because, the government, public and you know, everyone, told them to do it, that's why.


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5th Gear: Ford is claiming class-leading fuel efficiency for the next-gen Focus Econetic, which will make its debut at next week's Amsterdam motor show. The automaker says the new model โ€” which uses a newly-tuned 1.6-liter turbodiesel, with 104bhp โ€” will return 80 mpg on the Imperial cycle and emit "less than 95g/km" of CO2 when it arrives in UK dealerships in spring 2012. That's more than 10mpg more and 15g/km less than the current Focus 1.6 TDCi. We're more interested in seeing whether it'll have a 0-to-60 time below ten seconds or if it'll be in any way fun to drive.


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6th Gear: Bus-safety measures proposed after recent fatal crashes in New York and New Jersey may reshape the marketplace for motor-coach lines plying the U.S. East Coast for fares as low as $1. Bloomberg reports that a bill in the U.S. Senate would require more than a dozen safety improvements including passenger seat belts, fire protection and stronger roofs. That might add as much as $89,000 to the average $500,000 price of a new motor coach, according to the American Bus Association. The legislation also calls for more roadside inspections, company safety audits, increased driver training and closer surveillance of vehicle defects.


Reverse:

โŽ Top Gear US host Rutledge Wood is in Herald Square in New York City until 2:00 PM EST today. Find him, and yell "Jalopnik Rules!" at him and he'll give you a prize.

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โŽ LupiniPower says its SuperUte is no joke! [WorldCarFans]

โŽ BMW to consider range extenders for future EVs. [Autoblog]

โŽ Did you know the Nissan Altima outsold the Toyota Camry last month? We didn't either. But don't expect that sales blip to continue. [Automotive News]

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โŽ Oh what a feeling... of possibly getting your credit rating cut by Moody's. [Detroit News]

โŽ Production of Tatas get augmented, doubles in size. [Autocar]

โŽ Saab continues to have problems paying the bills. This is not good. [Automotive News]

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โŽ Here's the all-new Opel Astra Coupe. Now why couldn't they have made THAT a new Buick? Silly General Motors... [BurlappCars]

โŽ Audi's just going from pole to pole. [Audi]

โŽ Harlan Charles talks about the C7 Corvette. [CorvetteBlogger]

โŽ Elena Ford's DWI arrest with child in car reported to state agency. [Detroit News]

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โŽ Maserati will open its first Indian showroom in Mumbai this year. [The News Market]


Today in Automotive History:

Emil Jellinek, an entrepreneur who commissioned engineer Wilhelm Maybach to design the first Mercedes automobile, named after Jellinek's daughter, is born in Leipzig, Germany, on this day in 1853. [Wikipedia ]

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