Seeking gas relief, Americans are turning to hybrid cars — vehicles that combine traditional internal combustion engines with electric ones — to alleviate heavy traffic pressure and decrease bloated pollution levels.
As gas pump prices inflate and as foreign oil increasingly becomes a non-reliable source for American consumers, sales and visibility of hybrid cars are rising.
“Sales were electric right when I was there,” Joe Martinez, a former salesman at Don McGill Toyota said. “It was hard to keep the Prius’ on the lot. The environmentally conscience and the wallet conscience were both very interested in the car. It’s very popular and I think it will continue to be very popular.”
“Today’s hybrids are far more sophisticated and user-friendly than the ones sold just a few years ago,” said Buzz Rodland, Chairman of the American International Automobile Dealers Association in a press release. “Consumers used to have to choose between a fuel efficient car and one that was practical enough for everyday use. Today they can have both. Hybrids are beginning to explode in popularity because they now offer style, room and power. And the clean-burn, diesel-powered vehicles of today are vastly improved from the diesel vehicles of the 1970s and 80s.”
The popularity of these vehicle may also stem from a tax break being offered by the U.S. Government. The government is offering a one-time federal tax deduction of up to $1,500.
Ed Patru of the American International Automobile Dealers Association said that this will be the last year of the deductions, but said that President Bush has introduced more tax relief for hybrid car buyers.
The Prius won MotorTrend magazine’s car of the year for 2004. Besides its environmentally friendly aspects, consumers are attracted to its low prices (the Prius sells for $20,000) and sparkling fuel efficiency. Hybrid vehicles also offer high miles per gallon ratios. The Prius tops out at 55 mpg, compared to 35 in similar-sized cars.
The hybrid vehicle does not have to be plugged in like electric cars. The batteries, much like a conventional battery recharges itself. The electric battery is the only power source when the car operates on low speeds, when more power is required, the gas engine kicks in. The electric engine releases no emissions.
Experts expect the sales of these cars to blossom over the next two years. The market is expected to triple its current $2.5 billion revenue stream. Patru said he believes sales to climb to 177,000 (from 2004’s 40,00 sold) in 2005. Patru also contends that hybrid cars could account for as much as 25 percent of the new car sales market.
Japanese automakers currently have a corner on the hybrid market. Toyota’s has the four-door sedan Prius and Honda has the two-door Insight and the four-door Civic Hybrid. With the success of these automobiles, American auto manufacturers are clamoring to get a slice of the market. Ford is expected to release its popular sports utility vehicle, the Escape, as a hybrid version next year. Mercedes-Benz and General Motors are expected to unveil new hybrid vehicles in the near future.
Hybrid vehicles do have some negatives. Cold weather hampers the electric engine’s capabilities. Resale values are unpredictable because of the newness of the technology. While electric batteries need to only be replaced every ten years, they are expensive (about $1,000). And because of their popularity, there are long waiting lists (some as long as a year) for gas relief.