Hybrid Vehicles Making Greater Inroads

By dancurranjr On November 3rd, 2009

new-insightIt’s been a decade since an odd-looking little car called the Honda Insight hit the U.S. market and Americans discovered the smug, fuel-saving joy of owning a hybrid vehicle.

Now, gas-electric hybrids seem to be everywhere.

More than a dozen hybrid models are available in the U.S. today, with options spanning nearly every taste and budget, from gas-sipping small cars like the Toyota Prius to big SUVs like the Chevy Tahoe that blend right in on Texas roads.

And even though hybrid sales have fallen with the recession and lower gasoline prices, the category continues to attract buyers.

“Hybrids were once seen as a curiosity but have now become mainstream,” said Ailis Aaron Wolf, spokesperson for hybridownersofamerica.org.

Hybrids are likely to make still bigger inroads in coming years as automakers strive to meet tougher fuel-economy standards recently introduced by the Obama administration. The rules call for fleets to achieve an average 35.5 mpg by 2016.

Motorists are demanding cleaner and more fuel-efficient transportation in the wake of $4 gasoline last year and widening climate-change concerns.

Hybrid sales will account for about 2.8 percent of U.S. auto sales this year, growing to 6.7 percent in 2012, predicts J.D. Power and Associates in Troy, Mich.

The Toyota Prius sedan continues to be the best-seller, accounting for 50 percent of U.S. hybrid sales. A newly redesigned Honda Insight is seen as an emerging challenger while hybrid models by Ford, Lexus and Saturn are also finding takers.

Most hybrids — which combine a gasoline-fed internal combustion engine with an electric motor — tout better fuel economy and reduced tailpipe emissions when compared with models powered solely by internal combustion engines. The models are especially recommended for stop-and-start city driving, in which the electric motor takes over, recharged with every tap of the brake.

Critics contend that automakers often overstate gas-mileage claims and that hybrids’ higher sticker prices make sense only if gasoline prices are much higher than they are today.

But Aaron Wolf said the growth of hybrid technology over the past 10 years is silencing detractors. It’s also providing a bridge to electric cars for the masses.

Next year, hybrids are expected to take a leap closer to that goal with the release of the Chevy Volt, which General Motors says can achieve 230 miles per gallon. It pairs a gas engine with lithium-ion batteries that can be recharged by plugging into a wall socket at home. The Nissan Leaf, a fully electric and zero-emission model, is expected later.

Meantime, Americans will see a variety of more traditional hybrid vehicles offered in coming years from the likes of Hyundai, Mercedes, BMW, Ford and Toyota.

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Toyota May Expand Prius Into A Sub-Brand

By dancurranjr On November 3rd, 2009

toyota-phev-priusA top executive with the U.S. arm of Toyota Motor Corp said on Monday the automaker may expand the Prius nameplate into a marketing sub-brand for a broad family of low-emission, high-mileage hybrid vehicles.

Speaking at the Reuters Auto Summit in Detroit, Bob Carter, the group vice president and general manager of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc, said the proposal was controversial within the company and that a final decision on the idea was more than a year away.

But as long as Prius was expanded only into a sub-brand and not a separate franchise, Carter said the change “was one that I support.” He said he believed his boss, Jim Lentz, the president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor Sales, supported the idea, too.

“Prius has become such an icon in the market that it is my desire, and the desire by many of us … that we nurture Prius beyond one vehicle and more into a family of vehicles,” Carter said.

Life beyond Prius’ current incarnation as a sedan comparable to the company’s Camry might include making it bigger “to meet the needs of larger families” and “smaller to meet the needs of people who do not need the space of a mid-sized sedan,” Carter said.

He said Toyota currently claimed about three-quarters of the hybrid market and that it expects to sell globally “in excess of 1 million hybrids per year in the relatively near future.” He said that by the 2020s, hybrids would be either optional or standard equipment on every vehicle Toyota sells.

Carter said consumer demand for clean, efficient vehicles remained high despite a dramatic retreat in fuel prices over the past year.

“It’s almost as if the consumer is saying, ‘Yes, I understand fuel prices are low today but I am buying this car with the intention of driving it five or six years and I don’t have confidence that fuel prices will stay low,'” he said

Carter said Toyota, which already offers seven hybrids in its Toyota and Lexus lines, planned to introduce 10 more globally in the coming years.

Source: Reuters