We, The People, Want Hybrid SUVs

Doug DeMuro
by Doug DeMuro
we the people want hybrid suvs

Today, dear readers, I come to you with some bad news: Chevrolet is cancelling the Tahoe Hybrid. This is a major event. So major, in fact, that – upon reading it – you probably took a deep breath, sat back in your chair, gazed at the computer screen, and thought to yourself: They still make the Tahoe Hybrid?

The answer is: Of course they still make the Tahoe Hybrid! It’s a great car, provided you ignore the sticker price and fuel economy ratings. Actually, if you ignore those, a lot of things become great cars, although the Acura ZDX is still not one of them.

Chevy says it’s cancelling the Tahoe Hybrid because sales weren’t strong enough to justify its presence in the redesigned 2015 Tahoe lineup. Presumably, this is also true of the Silverado Hybrid, which – really – also still exists. And by “still exists,” I mean there are probably about 80 remaining at Chevy dealers across the country, and they’re all 2011 models.

Truthfully, Chevy is probably making the right decision. Of the 69,000 Tahoes they sold last year, just 533 were Hybrids. That means 99.2 percent of Tahoe buyers found it difficult to ignore the sticker price and fuel economy ratings. The other 0.8 percent, of course, were General Motors employees.

But I’m not here to discuss the Tahoe Hybrid. (This would end badly, with me saying things like “I like the stickers” and you vowing to never again read anything I write.) Instead, I want to discuss the giant hole it’s leaving in the hybrid SUV world.

Not surprisingly, the Tahoe Hybrid’s demise also signals the cancellation of its twins, the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid and the GMC Yukon Hybrid. That means the hybrid SUV segment now consists solely of the following vehicles, listed below with their base prices and fuel economy ratings:

1. Toyota Highlander Hybrid (28/28) – $41,000

2. Lexus RX 450h (32/28) – $47,000

3. Audi Q5 Hybrid (24/30) – $52,000

4. Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid (20/24) – $63,000

5. Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid (20/24) – $71,000

That’s right: there are only five hybrid SUVs currently on the market. And we really should disregard the Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid, since it only sells to Volkswagen dealers who use it as a service loaner and eventually write it off in a mysterious crash that, by coincidence, involved three other Touareg Hybrids and absolutely no diesel Jettas.

But it’s not the small number of hybrid SUVs that concerns me. Instead, it’s the cost. Not one of these things starts under $40,000, which means that only a select few Americans get to hum down the street and freak out cyclists while driving a huge vehicle that was necessary “because we have dogs.”

That wasn’t always the case. Just a few short years ago, we could buy a Ford Escape Hybrid, which cost $32,000 and got 34 mpg city. But Ford pulled the plug on the Escape Hybrid in favor of its latest strategy, which involves making its engines as small as humanly possible to see if anyone notices.

At this point, I know what you’re thinking, assuming you haven’t already started scrolling down to comment that you really do need a big SUV because you really do have dogs. Your thoughts are: Who the hell cares about hybrid SUVs? I hate SUVs! I hate hybrids! And now, I hate DeMuro!

But, you see, while you might hate SUVs, Americans don’t. We buy them in massive numbers. In fact, I have an SUV, which I bought to take off-road, or, more accurately, to drive on sidewalks past people who won’t turn right on red.

Americans also don’t hate hybrids. Instead – even though they only make up about 5 percent of the market – it seems we love them. I know this because every single driver in Atlanta now owns a Prius, a fact they show off by driving the speed limit in the left lane. Also, I recently saw a Prius with pro-gun bumper stickers, and when hybrid technology has reached the gun lovers, you know you’re on to something.

Of course, you may prefer diesel – but most Americans don’t. And let’s be honest: announcing “I’ve got a hybrid” means a lot more than “I’ve got a diesel” when you’re grabbing lunch after yoga. Plus, if the lunch is at Whole Foods, you’ll get to park up front.

So why hasn’t some enterprising automaker started offering a hybrid SUV with a reasonable base price and a 33 mpg EPA rating? And I mean city miles per gallon, not the Mazda CX-5’s “yes I get 35 mpg, provided you buy the stick shift and never use the air conditioning, and oh yes you know you have to tape the grille, right?”

If Toyota can do it with the Highlander at $40,000, can’t Honda do it with the CR-V at $30,000? It would be the Prius of SUVs, driving the speed limit in left lanes across the country. Only this time, it would have dogs in the back.

Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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3 of 98 comments
  • Brettc Brettc on May 30, 2013

    I would imagine that there have been several hundred mysterious collisions between Touareg Hybrids and Routans that VW dealers own. Just a hunch. As for hybrid SUVs, why is there not a hybrid RAV4? Seems like that's the logical progression for Toyota. Then people can have a slow compact truck-like thing. Because it would be a horrible atrocity for any manufacturer to put a small, fuel efficient diesel in a crossover/CUV and sell it in North America.

    • Doug DeMuro Doug DeMuro on May 30, 2013

      Agreed. Never understood it. They've been pushing RAV4 EVs since I was a child, but there's never been a hybrid.

  • Hybridguy Hybridguy on Aug 10, 2013

    Just found your article, Doug and couldn't agree with you more. So hard to hear news about hybrids getting discontinued, but I'm excited about several new ones in the pipeline. One that has caught my eye is the XV Crosstrek Hybrid from Subaru. As much as it hurt to lose the hybrid Escape, I'm hoping this one will fill the void.

  • 3SpeedAutomatic And this too shall pass.....Ford went thru this when the model T was introduced. It took the moving assembly line to make real money. As time progressed, it got refined, eventually moving to the Model A. Same kind of hiccups with fuel injection, 4 speed automatic, Firestone tires, dashboards with no radio knobs, etc, etc, etc. Same thing with EVs. Yep, a fire or two in the parking lot, espresso time at the charging stations, other issues yet to be encountered, just give it time. 🚗🚗🚗
  • Art Vandelay 2025 Camaro and Challenger
  • Mike Beranek Any car whose engine makes less than 300 ft-lbs of torque.
  • Malcolm Mini temporarily halted manual transmission production but brought it back as it was a surprisingly good seller. The downside is that they should have made awd standard with the manual instead of nixing it. Ford said recently that 4dr were 7% manual take rate and I think the two door was 15%.
  • Master Baiter It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future. It will be interesting to see if demand for Ford’s EVs will match the production capacity they are putting on line.