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Hybrid Autos May Proliferate But Their Profile is Changing

August 22, 2003

A lot more hybrid gasoline-and-electric vehicles are likely to hit showrooms in coming years as a result of a legal settlement announced last week between California clean-air regulators and two big automakers. But those hybrids may not curb U.S. fuel consumption as much as many people expect, according to the Wall Street Journal.Not all hybrid vehicles are created equal. The only hybrids currently on sale in the U.S. -- small cars from Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. -- average 45 to 60 miles per gallon, but their smaller size deters many buyers, according to the Journal.In the next few years, several automakers say they plan to roll out hybrid versions of sport utility vehicles or pickup trucks. Those models are expected to prove more popular with average consumers. But that's because they'll use theirelectric power to boost acceleration -- not just fuel economy, the Journal said.So far, hybrids remain a tiny niche in the U.S., accounting for well under 0.5 percentof the nation's new-vehicle sales. Although hybrid sales spike a bit when gasoline prices rise, suggesting that some Americans are choosing the cars for fuel economy, most Americans buying them today appear either infatuated with technology or particularly committed to the environment, according to the Journal.Both GM and Chrysler have said they plan to roll out versions of their full-size pickup trucks in the next year. Chrysler won't say how much of a fuel-economy improvement its hybrid will have over a conventional pickup, and the company says an even bigger factor in its decision to settle the California suit was that the state ensured that the automaker could get credit for small electric vehicles it hasbeen selling there, the Journal said.GM says its hybrid pickups will get about 10 percent better fuel economy than conventional models. That's a far smaller percentage of fuel-economy improvement than Toyota's and Honda's hybrids offer, according to the Journal. But GM and Chrysler officials say their strategy will do more to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil and global-warming emissions, because it's these big pickup trucks that are consuming so much gasoline.
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