Hybrid vehicle sales enter ‘free fall’

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Hybrid vehicle sales enter ‘free fall’

Post  Administrator on Tue Nov 15, 2011 2:15 pm

Hybrid vehicle sales enter ‘free fall’

Sales of hybrid petrol-electric cars, regarded not long ago as the cool cutting-edge of vehicle technology, are plunging due to the weak US economy and dramatic improvements in traditional internal combustion engines.

US sales of Toyota’s Prius, by far the most popular hybrid model, were 9.4 per cent lower in the first 10 months of this year than in January to October 2010. By contrast, overall light-vehicle sales rose 10 per cent.

Other models have taken an even harder knock. Demand for the hybrid version of Ford Motor’s Fusion midsized sedan shrank by almost half, compared with a 15.4 per cent gain for the petrol-driven model. Sales of Toyota’s Highlander sport utility vehicle hybrid tumbled by 37 per cent, including a two-thirds drop in October compared with a year earlier.

General Motors said that sales of its hybrid SUVs and pick-up trucks are now mostly confined to businesses that “have some sort of ‘green vehicle’ commitment or mandate”.

“The hybrid market is in a free fall this month,” said Kelley Blue Book, a used-car data service. Interest in hybrids listed on Kelley’s websites plunged by more than half in October. It urged dealers to be cautious about adding alternative-fuel models to their used-car inventory.

Hybrids use battery power at slow speeds, but rely on an internal combustion engine most of the time. The only pure electric car currently in production for the mass market is the Nissan Leaf. Chevrolet’s Volt can travel about 40 miles on battery power alone, but has a small petrol engine for longer distances.

The slump in the economy and lower petrol prices have contributed to falling hybrid sales. Mike Omotoso, global power train analyst at LMC Automotive, estimates that the average price of a hybrid is $5,000 higher than the equivalent internal combustion model.

Equally important however, is the development of new internal-combustion technology offering the same – if not improved – fuel efficiency as a hybrid, coupled with a widening array of attractive small cars, such as the Hyundai Elantra, the Ford Fiesta and Focus and the Chevrolet Cruze.
“We think there is a long-term future for hybrids,” Mr Omotoso said. “In the short term they are being squeezed by the new kids on the block.”

Several of the new petrol-driven models offer similar highway fuel consumption as the Prius. (The Toyota model still has a significantly higher rating for city driving.) Ford Motor is phasing out the hybrid version of its Escape crossover vehicle on the grounds that a new model equipped with its EcoBoost engine will outperform the hybrid.

Erich Merkle, Ford’s sales analyst, said that many non-hybrid vehicles “are much more fuel-efficient than they were just two years ago. So much technology is going into internal combustion engines that they are competing directly with hybrids”.

Using direct petrol injection and turbochargers, Ford’s EcoBoost engine achieves as much power in a six-cylinder configuration as a traditional V8, with much improved fuel consumption. Ford began production in Europe last week of a new one-litre EcoBoost model, the carmaker’s smallest petrol engine.


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