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The Ride: Cars sales slow, but they're getting greener

Last year, Americans bought a record number of new cars. Sales reached almost 17.5 million. But that may have been a peak for the industry. It seems clear that automakers won't set another record this year, and some brands and models have seen dramatic drops in sales.

Generally, cars have been losers, with sales of trucks, SUVs and crossovers remaining strong. In fact, the three most popular vehicles were all trucks–Ford's F series, Chevy's Silverado, and the Dodge Ram. Meanwhile, mainstays like the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Ford Fusion all lost ground.

Among brands, Fiat was down 24% and Chrysler sales dropped almost in half. But there were some winners. Tesla sales increased 88%, and Jaguar posted gains of some 225%, mostly on the strength of their new, more affordable XE sedan and F-Pace SUV.

The good news is that automakers are now offering greater incentives and better deals to consumers. The bad news is that the average transaction price for a new vehicle is now $34,663, up almost $800 compared to a year ago.

Take heart, or maybe take a deep breath. Though sales are sagging a bit, the EPA says fuel economy is increasing and emissions dropping.  Car makers outperformed greenhouse gas emission standards for four straight years, with new cars spewing out 10% less CO2 than they did in 2011. Meanwhile, fuel economy creeped up one-half mile per gallon over last year. The average for all cars stands at 24.8 mpg.