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Are Hybrids Losing Their Luster?

October 2, 2011 by Matt

Honda Civic Hybrid Engine

A report from Left Lane and a comparo in this month’s issue of Car and Driver take exception to the conventional wisdom that says hybrids are the “next big thing.”

The Left Lane article cites fresh statistics that show hybrid sales as a percentage of all new car sales declined for the third straight year:

[T]he percentage of vehicles sold each year that are gas-electric hybrids is actually on a downward trend, despite the fact that the market has nearly doubled its offering since peaking in 2009 at 2.8 percent of all new cars sold… [I]t appears that buyers in 2011 are heading for a hybrid market share of just over two percent, lower than the 2.4 percent recorded in 2010.

I was surprised to read that, given the massive exposure new hybrid models are accorded on the car show circuit and in automotive publications. It’s a refreshing reminder that as much as a new technology is hyped by the powers-that-be, whether governmental or corporate, people will buy the best option available for their particular situation. Market forces are inexorable, in spite of certain institutions’ best efforts to guide the buying public’s actions in specific directions.

And as evidenced by the Car and Driver comparison test between the Chevy Volt and its stablemate, the Cruze Eco, the automotive press is starting to cut through the fanfare and hold automakers’ feet to the fire for their claims of hybrid efficiency, and examine the real-world wisdom of a hybrid purchase. The Volt has been all but hailed as the savior of the entire American automotive industry, so with such over-saturation it’s inevitable any actual scrutiny of car itself will fail to meet those sky-high expectations. Still, it’s remarkable how thoroughly the conventional-cycle gas engine-powered Cruze Eco trounces the Volt in the comparo—and not just in terms of real-world fuel efficiency, either, but also with respect to driver engagement, standard equipment and options, all at less than half the price of the Volt.

The end of the hybrid tale is yet to be written, of course, but in medias res one automaker that seems very smart is Mazda, having chosen to forego developing a hybrid powerplant in favor of their ultra-high efficiency SkyActiv gas engine technology, to be introduced in Mazda’s upcoming CX-5 mini-ute. If the hybrid downward trend continues, the Japanese automaker in particular stands to look positively visionary.

Filed under: Alternative Propulsion, Car Industry, Chevrolet, Mazda, News

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