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1. New C7 Corvette Won’t Be Revolutionary

The next generation Corvette, the 2014 C7, won’t debut until early next year. But as 2013 creeps closer, we probably will learn much about the all-new ’Vette—and what we learn probably won’t shock or awe anyone.

Every new generation of Corvette spawns wild rumors of incredible technology and revolutionary powertrains. Since the 1970s, we’ve heard that the next “new Corvette” will be midengined and perhaps it will use a turbocharged V-6 or a rotary engine. It might also have wild bodywork. And yet, as far back as the 1950s, Corvettes have used a rear-wheel-drive chassis with a V-8 upfront. And for the past 40 years, Corvette styling has evolved consistently, like the Porsche 911’s. There have been no great leaps in styling since 1968.

The new C7 probably won’t be any different. There most likely won’t be any radical split-rear-window as a nod to the ’60s. A V-8 with around 450 hp will probably live under the car’s hood. We expect the new interior to be much upgraded over the current car, perhaps offering GM’s new Cue infotainment system. That might just be the most revolutionary part of the new car: a truly modern Corvette interior.

2. The Revitalized Dodge Dart Dominates

Currently, Dodge doesn’t have a small car to compete with Ford’s Focus or Chevy’s Cruze. But that will soon change. The new Dodge Dart, officially unveiled at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week, hits the streets later this year.

The Dart will borrow much from Chrylser’s parent company, Fiat. And that’s good news: Considering how many small cars Fiat and its sister brands produce for Europe, it should know how to produce a class-leading compact. Ford’s new Focus was developed entirely by the company’s European arm. And Chevy’s Cruze was engineered with the European market in mind too.

So if Ford and GM can create good compacts by harnessing the talents of their European arms, why can’t Chrysler? The Alfa Romeo–based Dart should be a solid competitor for the Focus and Cruze. It will be available with two naturally aspirated four-cylinder engines (160 hp 2.0-liter and a 184 hp 2.4-liter) and a turbocharged 1.4-liter motor also with 160 hp. Transmission choices include a manual gearbox and an automated dual clutch manual. Chrysler has said the Dart posted a combined rating of 40 mpg in testing. Now, those are the company’s internal test figures, and the EPA fuel economy numbers will likely be lower. But we think the new Dart might be one of the biggest hits for 2012.

3. EVs and Plug-In Hybrids Continue to Stagnate

The year of the electric car was widely believed to be 2011. Chevy launched its much-hyped and (presumably) highly anticipated Volt plug-in hybrid—a car that won more than 20 automotive awards, including three from Popular Mechanics. Nissan launched the Leaf last year too, the first EV the company has ever sold in the U.S.

But these electrified vehicles didn’t exactly fly out of dealer’s showrooms. Both carmakers wanted to move about 10,000 of their futuristic cars in 2011, but Chevy sold 7671 Volts and Nissan sold 9674 Leafs. You could blame many factors, but, like most things, it comes down to dollars. These cars are both relatively expensive, even with the generous tax credits, and the cost of gasoline isn’t high enough to make them worthwhile.

If gasoline prices were to spike past $4 per gallon and the cost of these plug-ins came down by several thousand dollars, then 2012 might be a banner year for EVs. But as of this writing, experts are not predicting a wild increase in oil prices this year. Hybrid technology took many years to resonate with consumers, so we predict EVs will continue to stagnate for the rest of the year and probably beyond 2013.

4. Japan Battles Back

Toyota and Honda, traditionally hit makers, have had a difficult few years. Both (but especially Toyota) had expensive recalls. The redesigned Civic has been so poorly received that Honda CEO Takanobu Ito took personal responsibility for the car’s lackluster performance. And a huge setback for both companies came in March 2011, when the devastating tsunami in Japan crippled the parts supply chain. Thousands of completed cars were destroyed in port and the Japanese car industry was shuttered for days. Overall, Toyota sales in the U.S. were down 6.7 percent in 2011. The Prius (which is built in Japan only) was 18th on the list of top 20 cars sold in the U.S. in 2010; it fell off the list last year.

But a slew of new Japanese cars are coming this year, including the smaller Scion FR-S sports car, the Toyota Prius C, the all-new Honda Accord, and an exciting Acura NSX supercar. We predict that this year, the pendulum will begin to swing back slightly in favor of the Japanese.
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