Hybrid Surge Fails to Rally The Troops

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
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hybrid surge fails to rally the troops

We've reported here about the huge surge in Toyota Prius sales over the last few months. In contrast, the number crunchers over at JD Power report that U.S. consumer interest in hybrid-powered automobiles has begun to fade. According to their second annual Alternative Powertrain Study, half of all new-vehicle shoppers polled (4k) are considering a hybrid. That's down from 57 percent of shoppers polled in their 2006 survey. Mike Marshall, director of JD's automotive emerging technologies unit, attributes the drop to the discrepency between inflated expectations and reality: "In the 2006 study, we found consumers often overestimated the fuel efficiency of hybrid-electric vehicles, and the decrease in consideration of hybrids in 2007 may be a result of their more realistic understanding of the actual fuel economy capabilities." In other words, the new EPA fuel economy calculations have hit hybrids hard.

Robert Farago
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  • Ghillie Ghillie on Jul 18, 2007

    I'm happy that diesel cars get great mileage and I'm not carrying a torch for hybrids - but there really is a lot of bs out there on this topic. The linked article by murphysamber had this often repeated chestnut: "Hybrid systems offer almost no benefit on the highway, so unless you're sitting in traffic, you're not saving anything." My experience and that of Glenn 126 shows that this claim is not true. There are several reasons why hybrids get good fuel efficiency on the open road. One of them is that the hybrid system allows the gas engine to be smaller, lighter, low friction and use a more efficient "cycle" (Atkinson cycle I think is what the Prius uses). It is also plain from the linked article that modern diesels are not a "low-tech" alternative to hybrids. The cost of battery replacement is an issue for hybrids, but the cost of engine maintenance and repair (including all the high-tech add on bits for emissions control) of modern diesels seems to me to be likely to remove any cost advantage they might have had. I believe there is a distinct bias against hybrids in general and Toyota in particular. There are probably varied reasons for this. But it doesn't bother me.

  • 210delray 210delray on Jul 18, 2007

    Here's an example of that anti-Prius bias, written about a month ago by someone I'll choose not to "dignify" (if that's even the correct word) by providing his name: “The millionth Prius was sold last week. A cross between a Mazda and a miscarriage - IT'S embraced by celebrities, environmentalists, and the nexus of evil: the celebrity environmentalist. Leonardo DiCaprio helms a hybrid hackeysack, allowing his conscience to remain clear while [having sex with] truckloads of broads who may or may not have been born before the Lillith [sic] Fair.” The Toyota Prius has been vilified like this since the second generation model, introduced in the US as a 2004 model, was met with great success in the marketplace. It seems right-wingers and domestic flag wavers like to emphasize Toyota's seeming "hypocrisy" in producing such a fuel-sipping car and projecting a "green" image while at the same time building a new assembly plant in Texas to crank out huge Tundra pickup trucks. Would they say the same thing if General Motors, for example, had produced such a car while simultaneously selling Silverados, Suburbans, and Hummers? But the reality is that Toyota took a huge gamble on this car. It has paid off handsomely, especially in light of the recent spikes in gas prices. The car is simply the most fuel efficient vehicle sold in America, with EPA city/highway estimates of 48/45 mpg, under the "new" testing regimen for 2008 models. The naysayers also liked to point out that the supposed extra initial cost of the Prius would take many years to recoup in fuel savings. This of course assumes that buyers would get a base model Corolla for thousands less and the price of gas would somehow drop back to 2 bucks a gallon or so. Yet the Prius compares favorably with the larger Camry in terms of passenger and cargo space (except for the center rear seat).

  • Sherman Lin Sherman Lin on Jul 19, 2007

    Part of the anti hybrid bias is simply the latest "not invented here syndrome" bias which has exemplified the former big 3's arrogance fo 30 years. I look forward to having more hybrid choices in the coming years. We will know soon enough whether hybrids are the way of the future.

  • Murphysamber Murphysamber on Jul 19, 2007

    Sherman, Maybe that's the case with some people, but from the standpoint that diesel is better than anything that still uses a gas engine (battery assisted or not), I can hardly say that there is an American flag waving over the camp. Let's face it; the boys from Detroit haven't done us right by way of the oil burner. So what about diesel hybrids? Then everyone can be happy!