New research conducted by Autodata Corp. shows that hybrid electric vehicle sales were up 32% for the first two months of this year, compared to the same period last year. This is not surprising at all considering the cost of gasoline these days. But that is not the only factor for the increase in hybrid sales this year.
The reliability of hybrid vehicles has a growing track record and almost every vehicle manufacturer produces a stylish hybrid now. (Yes, even Ferrari is getting into the hybrid game, with an ultimate 949 horsepower LaFerrari hybrid super car.)
Just in the United States, hybrid vehicles account for 4% of the US auto market, and that is expected to double by the end of the decade. Hybrids are not just for the techies or the eco-friendly anymore, the hybrid technology has reached the point were it is being taken very seriously by all automakers and consumers.
The fuel economy on a hybrid vehicle can sometimes reach 40% more than a conventional gasoline version of the same model. Hybrids use at least one electric motor to assist the primary gasoline engine, accelerating from a stop is one situation where hybrids help ease the fuel consumption. At slower speeds, the hybrids capture electricity and store it in a battery. Some can run on this stored electricity alone for varying distances.
“Gas prices are part of the equation, but it’s more about having the product in decent numbers,” said Jason Mosley, general manager of AutoNation Ford in Houston, told the LA Times. The dealership’s sales of Ford’s hybrid cars are up 400% from a year ago.
“The public has embraced these technologies because they have proven to be reliable and efficient,” said Ed La Rocque, Toyota’s brand manager for advanced technology vehicles.
“A lot of it still depends on fuel prices,” La Rocque said. “If we get up above $5 or $6 a gallon, we will see a dramatic change.”
One of the concerns buyers have is that the batteries will have to be replaced or that the cars will experience technical problems with their multiple drive systems. But Toyota says 90% of the Prius cars it has sold since introducing the model to the U.S. market in 2000 are still on the road. While the hybrid vehicle has a somewhat higher sticker price than the gasoline versions, the difference can be made up at the pump over time, especially if gas price rise more, and also a bit through lower maintenance costs.
The biggest boost for the hybrid market comes from the automakers that have embraced the technology and are competing to corner the market.
One example is Nissan, which dropped out of the hybrid market several years ago, but it showed off a hybrid version of its new Pathfinder crossover at the New York Auto Show last month.
Honda is expected to launch a hybrid version of its Accord this fall, which is expected to have a class-leading fuel economy rating of 49 mpg in city driving. Toyota released a hybrid version of its full-sized Avalon sedan and is already seeing some early success with sales.
Ford is now selling 3,000 to 4,000 of each of the vehicles per month in the U.S. and has jumped to 17% of the nation’s hybrid market in February, from 5% in the same month last year.
With more automakers coming on board and wanting to share in the hybrid market sales, we may see an even bigger boost in sales over the next few years then already predicted.