Speakers at Tuesday's "Environment" Session remind that there are a few vehicles on the road right now that are delivering the sort of amazing performance usually ascribed for environmentally friendly vehicles decades from now. And all those vehicles have a deep reliance on advanced electronic control systems.

Toyota Motor Corp.'s Shinichi Abe, for example, says that new electronic advances have allowed Toyota to meaningfully improve its Prius hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) - a car that from the onset pushed the envelope for electronic management of mechanical systems - in just three years since its introduction.

Mr. Abe says improvements to the drive motor have yielded as much as a 3% gain in output, while efficiency enhancements for the nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries mean the '01 Prius need carry only 38 individual NiMH batteries instead of the former 40 batteries.

Meanwhile, Volkswagen AG's Hanno Jelden details the sophisticated electronic management vital to the 3-liter Lupo's "automated" manual transmission. The 3-liter Lupo is so named because it is a specially optimized variant of the Lupo subcompact that achieves an overall fuel consumption of just 3 liters per 100 km of driving. That's 78.4 mpg in stateside measurement.

The special Lupo, available only in Europe, owes its fuel-sipping ways to a number of advanced features, including a highly efficient 1.2L direct-injection turbodiesel engine and the above-mentioned automated manual transmission.

Lupo's drivetrain also provides for the fuel-saving advantages of automatic start/stop operation, which shuts down the engine during brief halts (such as waiting at a traffic light), and instantly restarts it when the driver needs to proceed.