I grew up in the Detroit area, where grandmothers and infants were expected to know how to replace a fuel gauge sensor and wire brush battery connections. So I always like to check the latest and greatest at auto shows, which for years have been all about piling on fuel efficiency features and on-board communication systems and trying to make hybrids and EVs viable options for the masses.

But amid all the chatter about ushering in a new age of the automobile you sometimes see industry insiders acknowledging the main impediment to any real breakthrough in efficiency:  The internal combustion engine, for all the brainpower that’s gone into its engineering and design, only uses about 15 percent of the energy generated by fuel to move the car down the road and run accessories.

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