Hybrid Cars: The Slow Drive To Energy Security Essay

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Hybrid Cars: The Slow Drive to Energy Security

The hybrid car market is slowly ramping up. In the past five years the number of hybrid sales in the U.S. grew tenfold from 9,500 in 2000 to 100,000 in 2004. By the end of 2005, the number of hybrid cars on American roads will grow to 300,000, represented by about seven or eight hybrid models, including the two-door Honda Insight, which will have sales of about 2,000 in 2005.

The increasing sales numbers are encouraging, but must be viewed in the context of the overall car market. The 100,000 hybrid car sales in 2004 represent about one-half of one percent of the 17 million new cars sold this year. If every new hybrid driver effectively (and optimistically) doubled fuel economy from 20
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Honda recently introduced the Accord hybrid. Ford became the only American automaker so far to join the hybrid market with the introduction of the Escape Hybrid, which won the North American Auto Show’s Truck of the Year Award. Ford is expected to sell about 4,000 Escape Hybrids in 2004, and has targeted total sales for the 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid SUV at 20,000. In the next few years the hybrid bandwagon will be joined by GM, Daimler-Chrysler, Nissan, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Mercedes, and even Porsche.

Power trumps efficiency
A study released in September 2004 by Kenneth Kurani and Thomas Turrentine of UC Davis’s Institute of Transportation Studies indicated that fuel economy is “only one feature of an expensive, complex good which has many implications for lifestyle and image goals.” Kurani and Turrentine add that consumers might value fuel economy more highly if it were “more like shiny paint or a bold body style—an attribute with some emotional punch.” The lineup of new 2005 hybrids shows what carmakers think will pack the emotional punch that greater fuel economy apparently lacks:

Ford Escape (Sept. ’04) – the utility of an SUV at a relatively modest price.
Honda Accord Hybrid (Dec. ’04) – family sedan with power.
Lexus SUV Hybrid (By March ‘05) – luxury and power in an SUV.
Toyota Highlander Hybrid (Summer ’05) – a blend of utility and power with a slightly reduced price tag from the Lexus.
Sierra and Silverado Hybrid Pickups

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