- Buyers less inclined to look at hybrids
- Manufacturers less inclined to make them
- Conventional drivetrains offering sweet economy
The Toyota Prius is the car everyone thinks of whenever there's mention of hybrids. Various agencies are pressuring the auto industry to cut down on fuel consumption and hydrocarbon emissions. Prices at the pumps are hitting new highs. So regular car buyers might be forgiven for thinking that hybrid vehicles are moving more and more into the motoring mainstream. But they could be wrong.
After a recent debut at the 2012 New York auto show, the 2013 Nissan Altima range - a new generation of this midsize sedan - will not be offering a hybrid.
The hybrid version of the old Ford Escape crossover SUV used to be a favorite among the more eco-conscious. But the 2013 Ford Escape will have no such variant in the showrooms when it launches in the spring.
And a market research survey by Polk (released April 9) has found that only 35 percent of hybrid owners bought another one when the time came to change their cars in 2011. Factor out the loyalty of Prius owners and that figure drops to 25 percent. "The re-purchase rates of hybrid vehicles are an indication that consumers are continuing to seek alternative solutions to high fuel prices," said Brad Smith of Polk.
Polk also found that of all the new vehicles sold in the United States during 2011, only 2.4 percent were hybrids. The highest it's ever been was 2.9 percent in 2008. And that's despite the selection of hybrids more than doubling since 2007.
In Nissan's case, it's easy to see why there's no Altima hybrid this time around. The outgoing model was only available in 11 states and used technology licensed from Toyota, so Nissan had to charge over the odds to cover the costs. And anyway, the company claims its 2013 Altima can achieve 38 mpg on the highway with a regular internal combustion-based drivetrain. "We're exploring a hybrid version in the future, although we cannot cite specific plans at this time," said John Schilling, spokesman for Nissan. "We believe the fuel economy delivered by our 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine and next-generation CVT (continuously variable transmission) is exactly what buyers are looking for right now." The 2011 Altima hybrid managed 33 mpg on the highway.
Speaking for Ford, Angie Kozleski said, "We have moved our hybrid technology to the C-Max vehicles. This gives us a dedicated hybrid body style." She added that Ford is concentrating on its EcoBoost turbocharged engines. "The 1.6-liter EcoBoost in the new Escape is expected to deliver up to five miles per gallon more than the outgoing Escape and will have better highway fuel economy than the Escape hybrid."
This is the new trend: better fuel economy from conventional technology - using things like turbocharging, direct fuel injection and variable valve timing. It keeps the weight, purchase price and overall costs lower. Hybrids have never saved enough gasoline to recoup the premium charged. It would take even greater hikes at the pump for that to happen. In the meantime, manufacturers are claiming highway mileage of nearly 40 mpg for some of their newer products such as the 2012 Ford Focus, 2012 Ford Fiesta and 2012 Hyundai Elantra.
What this means to you: Be it hybrid, diesel or otherwise, we can all look forward to fuel economy improving across the board.