Last year, Environmental Protection Agency Director Margo Oge urged auto makers to call a truce in the ongoing horsepower war and instead race each other for the title of world’s greenest vehicle producer. Since then a variety of environmental, highway-safety and insurance-industry advocates have echoed her challenge, underscoring a controversy that is as old as the industry itself. One hundred years ago, critics considered the Model T’s 20-hp engine and 45-mph (72 km) top speed highly ...

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