Best Non-Hybrid Ever: This Chevy Will Get 46 MPG

General Motors (NYSE:GM) announced Thursday that its original estimates on the latest Chevy Cruze diesel were wrong. Instead of 42 mpg on the highway, the compact car will reach 46 mpg in the best conditions. That makes it the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid car on the road and the latest coup for the resurgent automaker. Executives say the car was still in development at the time of earlier estimates, accounting for the disparity.

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GM released its sales figures earlier this week, demonstrating it had performed 3.6 percent better in Q1 than in the same period of 2012, as Cadillac performed at an excellent rate and Chevy continued strong. GM is making news with the type of engine in the Cruze as well as the car’s better-than-expected efficiency. The Cruze’s diesel engine will be the first in a GM car since its 1986 Chevette, in a move that will rival offerings by Volkswagen’s Jetta TDI.

Though Volkswagen made significant gains on the Detroit-based automaker in 2012, GM is confident it will remain the second-best manufacturer as it sets its sights on Toyota (NYSE:TM). Slumping European sales are likely to hurt Volkswagen in the coming months, as GM hopes to make inroads in the pickup truck business. Its 2014 Silverado and GMC Sierra offer better mpg than the Ford (NYSE:F) F-150 line, EcoBoost engines and all…

GM also announced recently that it will begin building Spark electric engines domestically, a first for U.S. manufacturers. Staying competitive in the hybrid and electric car market  in California is one strategy GM will use in trying to overtake Toyota for position at the top of the winner’s circle among automakers.

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Innovations like the new Cruze with a diesel engine will help GM considerably, as will the roll-out of its new models later in the year. Industry insiders will point out that the prize for top seller does not always equate to best profits, though all admit that employees inspired by good press tend to perform at peak levels for the company. If inspiring its employees is a goal of GM’s, the company has played a winning hand with its new Cruze.

Here’s how the Big 3 Auto stocks have performed in 2013:

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