A vehicle big enough to comfortably carry six adults and get better than 40 miles per gallon?

It'll be on the road before 2020, predicted Henry Hansel, president of the Hansel Auto Group and a 38-year auto industry veteran.

"I'm absolutely confident of that," Hansel said.

With $4 a gallon gasoline on the horizon — some analysts say later this year in California — the demand for powerful, economic cars and trucks is inescapable.

Within 10 years, most vehicles will be hybrids, all-electric or powered by even more exotic technologies, such as fuel cells or the sun, he predicted.

Expensive hybrids may languish on dealer lots when gas is relatively cheap, but will get "a stronger look from consumers" as pump prices rise, said Paul Taylor, chief economist of the National Automobile Dealers Association.

Government standards require a manufacturer's fleet of cars and trucks to average 30.1 mpg in 2012, ratcheting up to 35.5 mpg in 2016. But beyond federal fiat, Hansel said, is the reality that China and India — both 1 billion people strong — are demanding more of the world's oil.

"We have no choice but to figure out alternatives," Hansel said.

Already, the Chinese are buying more new vehicles a year than Americans, a first in history, he noted.

Hansel Ford was named last week as one of 76 new dealers to sell small battery-powered commercial vans made by Azure Dynamics Corp., a developer of components and powertrain systems for hybrid and electric commercial vehicles.

Ford will debut an electric Focus later this year, competing with the just-released Nissan Leaf and the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt.