Detroit's Answer to 'Hybrid' Cars

US carmakers look to hybrid electric technology to improve performance of sport utility vehicles.

Published: 22-Feb-2001

Feb. 19 — Japanese automakers have led the way in selling "hybrid" cars, which have improved fuel economy and reduced tailpipe emissions by running on either gasoline or electricity. But the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight, on the American market for a year, are costly to produce and sold in limited numbers at a loss. So Detroit is trying a middle ground.

American automakers will offer some "full hybrids," capable of running on battery power alone at low speeds, but are putting their main focus on electrically assisted gasoline engines. Such engines, which cost little more than conventional engines but use a less ambitious technology than some environmentalists want, will become an option or standard equipment on dozens of models in coming years.

General Motors and Ford executives say they expect to offer various levels of electrically assisted engines at least as an option on most models, though in some cases it may take a decade or more. Other automakers are more cautious, but with G.M. and Ford together accounting for half the American market, their rivals are likely to follow suit.

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