Beyond the Prius
There are both positive and negative signs for sales of hybrid cars in the fall of 2011, but it seems clear that they are a permanent and growing niche in the automotive landscape. By 2015, there could be 50 hybrids (up from approximately 30 now) and another 20 plug-in hybrids on the market, says Michigan-based auto analyst Alan Baum.
Hybrids are hovering at 2% of the car market, which is a big improvement from 1.2% in Junea temporary slump caused largely by Japanese earthquake-related supply problems. The industrys bestseller, the Toyota Prius, is definitely in recovery mode, with 9,500 U.S. sales in August, more than double that of June.
Going forward, hybrids will gain market share, but theyll also face increasing competition from cheaper fuel-sipping gas cars, some of which will incorporate start-stop technology and become micro-hybrids. Its worth remembering that the hybrid designation does not automatically mean fuel efficiencysome current hybrid version of luxury cars and big SUVs are more expensive without saving much on fuel. And the Union of Concerned Scientists has shown that, by forcing customers to pay for features that add weight and cost, many hybrid cars arent living up to their fuel economy and price potential.
But robust sales of the Prius, Hyundai Sonata and Lexus CT 200h show that hybrids are here to stay. Some automakers, notably Toyota, are even talking about offering hybrid versions of every model in their lineup. Since there are more hybrids than ever on the market, heres a guide to whats in the showrooms for 2012:
2012 Toyota Prius
The Bottom Line: $23,520
Fuel Economy: 51 city/48 highway
The bestselling hybrid by miles, and the overall best performer. Start here, then look at everything else. An improved Prius was introduced in 2010, with a new 1.8-liter engine and hybrid system producing 134 horsepower. Its a bigger engine with better fuel economy, in part because of more relaxed highway cruising. Dont expect a sports car, but the redesigned Prius is stiffer than before, incorporating aluminum panels for lower weightand a new zero to 60 time under 10 seconds.