Automakers debut new car models at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show, but they come to the Washington Auto Show to talk green technology and energy policy.

Last week, Energy Secretary Steven Chu delivered the show’s keynote, highlighting the Energy Department’s “EV Everywhere Grand Challenge” — an initiative aiming to make electric vehicles more affordable by 2022.

The Energy Department announced an initiative — the “Workplace Charging Challenge” — to install electric vehicle charging stations in workplace parking lots. Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, Nissan, Tesla, Google and Verizon are among the founding partners for the program.

The auto show also included a forum to discuss industry prospects and consumer response to the latest green technology.

Here are a few take-aways from that conversation:

1Today’s consumers are more interested in energy-efficient cars than they were a few years ago.

Diesel and hybrid sales in 2012 were twice that of the past five years, said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Air and Radiation.

2 Consumer attitudes toward driving are changing.

Young adults are increasingly waiting longer to get their driver’s licenses, and are more amenable to sharing cars instead of buying their own, said Rebecca Lindland, research director at IHS Automotive. These behavioral changes might lead consumers to buy fewer cars in general, she said.

3For those who are still buying cars, the relatively high cost of energy-
efficient cars remains a deterrent.

The average income of the owner of a Chevrolet Volt or Nissan Leaf — a hybrid and an electric car, respectively — is about $150,000 a year, Lindland said, but for the car industry overall, it’s $68,000 a year. The auto industry’s pricing could be “delaying the greening of the fleet,” she said.

4Automakers hope the greater push for energy efficiency comes from consumers, not policymakers.

The energy efficient market is now moving beyond government support as consumers realize how they can cut costs and emissions with efficient cars, said Reg Modlin, Chrysler’s regulatory affairs director. The best impetus for energy innovation should be the “market pulling technology. It can’t be forced,” he said.

5And raising gas taxes isn’t the solution, automakers say.

“The idea that we’re going to funnel consumers into a policy-driven choice is overly optimistic,” said Robert Bienenfeld, environment and energy strategy senior manager at American Honda Motor Co.

“The first thing that happens when prices go up is people downsize. It’s not a push for different fuels,” he said.