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Hybrids & Diesels - Deals or Duds?
"Hybrids, suddenly, are becoming the feel-good phenomenon of the decade. With gasoline prices at $2.23 per gallon, according to AAA--up 23percent from a year ago--hybrid sales have more than doubled so far this year compared with the same period in 2004. And some industry experts foresee a hybrid in every garage, though others think it could all be one big fad. It's no secret that hybrids like the Toyota Prius, which has both a battery-powered motor and a conventional gas engine--and averages close to 50 mpg--have earned cultlike devotion from a growing niche of conscientious car buyers. Now, a number of automakers, led by Toyota, Honda, and Ford, are betting that a new lineup of hybrids will become America's next must-have vehicles.
"A feisty Honda Accord hybrid--the fastest sedan in its lineup--went on sale late last year at a list price of $30,140. So far the company has sold more than 4,500, and the hybrid accounts for nearly 7 percent of all Accord sales. Last month, Toyota's Lexus division began selling the first luxury hybrid, the RX 400h SUV. Buyers snapped up nearly 1,000 in the first week, with an additional 12,000 on order. Those will join 8,000 hybrid versions of the Ford Escape SUV already on the road. All told, nearly 25 hybrids from a dozen carmakers are due in showrooms by 2008. Overall, hybrid sales will top 200,000 this year, according to J. D. Power & Associates, and some experts see nothing but open road ahead. Within 20 years, predicts Jim Press, Toyota's top U.S. executive, 'virtually everything on the market is going to be a hybrid.'"
Don't environmentalists and GreenPeace folks get too happy yet. Newman reported on less favorable news about hybrids and their future: "But J. D. Power forecasts that hybrid fever will cool off once the dual-powered vehicles hit about 3 percent of the market, probably around 2011. Pragmatic mainstream buyers may prefer to spend extra money on performance and comfort options instead of a feel-good power train. David Backman of Minneapolis looked at a Prius when he was shopping for a new car last year. But the computer specialist settled instead on a Hyundai Elantra GT. The mileage isn't as good, but he was able to load it up with a moon roof, leather interior, and other goodies, all for $9,000 less than the Prius. 'At 10,000 miles a year,' he concludes, 'I would never come close to recouping the premium.'
"GM's Burns sees other limitations of hybrids--under the Prius's hood. When Toyota introduced the second-generation Prius last year, GM joined the mad dash of consumers rushing out to buy one. But not to drive. Instead, GM engineers disassembled the car at the company's Vehicle Assessment Center in Warren, Mich., and laid the guts of the propulsion sys-tem out on a long shelf. One major discovery: The Prius's hybrid power train contains 42 percent more parts than the machinery that moves a similar-size Chevrolet Malibu. That, argues Burns, is too much complexity for the car of the future."
Car and Driver's editors ran some columns with arguments aimed against diesels an hybrids. Here's what Csaba Csere said about predictions diesels will take over: "But as the ever-skeptical Patrick Bedard points out in his column, modern turbocharged diesel engines are substantially more expensive than gasoline powerplants, and they face daunting technical challenges before they can meet the EPA Tier 2 exhaust-emissions standards that began phasing in with 2004 models.
"Notwithstanding wild claims that Dubya has 'destroyed the environment,' these standards are the strictest in the world, offering no breaks for diesel engines. In contrast, European governments—often credited with showing more concern for the planet than Washington displays—have not implemented emissions regulations nearly as strict as those currently taking effect here."
Here's what Patrick Beard said about diesels: "Americans could probably care less about diesel cars, but they'd have to try more. Only 40,224 were sold here in the 2004 model year, according to WardsAuto.com. As a share of the nearly eight-million-car market, diesels round off to one-half of one percent. In other words: 'zero'"
Beard further argues that high diesel prices (higher than premium gasoline) for high-priced diesel cars won't sell. VW, the largest diesel seller in the USA, halted '05 and '06 Touaregs in March because the EPA did not approve of VW's emissions control.
Grump king Brock Yates touted the JD Power report on forcasted hybrids production for 2011 will only make up 3% of overall share with thirty-eight hybrid cars on the market. Yates also assailed some people particular: "Of course, the know-it-alls in the big media have instant solutions. Example: Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria recently touted some supremely woozy technology using 'plug in' hybrids with flexible fuel (15-percent petroleum, 85-percent methanol or ethanol) and—voilà! 500 mpg! Zakaria ignores the wallet-busting cost of producing, refining, and distributing methanol, ethanol, hydrogen, and other alternative fuels—a concept that has long since been hooted down by people who understand the harsh realities of energy production. If only these gasbags in the elitist press would do their homework."