OpEd: Still No Serious Marketing of Hybrid Auto

Editorial sees hybrid as a well-kept secret targeted only to environmentalists.

Published: 13-Feb-2003

prices are rising — again — by that mysterious, magic formula used only by fuel distributors and utility companies.

Meanwhile, somewhere on the lot of a car dealership near you, there sits a vehicle that can get about 45 miles to the gallon highway, 52 in town.

It’s available. Right now. Has been for a couple of years.

Hybrids run on a combination of gas and electric battery. Unlike earlier experimental electric cars, though, the hybrid does not have to be plugged in at night, or at all. Its battery automatically regenerates itself.

Toyota has the Prius, Honda the Civic and Insight. Next fall Ford will introduce a hybrid version of the Escape, its smaller SUV. While this heavier vehicle won’t get quite the mileage rate as the smaller hybrids, it’s still expected to get 40 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, a far, far sight better than any other SUV. GM is supposed to produce some hybrid pickups, SUVs and cars in 2005-07.

Unfortunately, so far hybrids are a well-kept secret. Because so far, auto dealers have mainly targeted hybrid-vehicle sales to environmentalists.

That’s singing to the choir.

Instead of limiting their marketing techniques to those most apt to buy hybrids, automakers should be singing the cars’ praises to the vast audience out here that is sick and tired of fluctuating gas prices, and worried that pending war in Iraq will cause a fuel crisis.

Instead automakers succumb to the pressure of fuel distributors and wait for the U.S. government to force them to make significant improvements in vehicular fuel-efficiency standards. And a Republican-controlled government isn’t likely to do that anytime soon.

Hybrid-car sales are remarkably good despite all this. They remain a fairly well kept secret (a South Bend new-car salesman was recently asked when his company planned to produce a hybrid; he responded by asking what a hybrid was), but hybrid vehicle sales grew by 43 percent in 2002 to about 36,000 vehicles.

In his State of the Union address, President Bush proposed support of a hydrogen-powered, clean-running vehicle. But mass production of such a vehicle is at least a decade down the road.

The hybrid’s here now.

So far, consumers can expect to pay a few thousand more for a hybrid. But hybrid owners are eligible for a tax break for roughly the same amount as reward for owning one. And they can pass up the pump far more often than their fellow gas-guzzling motorists.

Not to mention that hybrids emit fewer harmful fumes into the air than regular cars, trucks and SUVs. According to the Sierra Club, the average car emits about 70 tons of carbon dioxide in its lifetime; the average SUV, 100 tons. Hybrids produce only about 30 tons in their lifetimes.

Also, hybrid owners can draw some satisfaction in thumbing their noses at foreign oil producers who continue to hold the U.S. hostage.

All good selling points. Too bad the automakers aren’t using them aggressively.



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