Auto Electronics

ABI marks new hybrid models

Recent hybrid vehicle introductions by Toyota (a hybrid Camry) and GM (the Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid and the Chevy Tahoe), along with hybrid versions of the Ford Escape and Honda Accord, are part of "an important generation for the future of hybrid vehicles," according to Dan Benjamin, principal analyst for the transportation practice at ABI Research. "The vehicles) share important similarities, but their success or failure may mean very different things to their manufacturers," Benjamin said. "We're starting to see hybrid versions of mainstream vehicles. Automakers are giving customers a direct choice: to opt for hybrid technology on a given model, or not. Will they pay the premium for the hybrid technology when everything else about the vehicle is the same?"

The premium ranges from approximately $2,000 to $4,000. "The lower end of that range, applying to the Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid, buys you a powertrain that is not hybrid in the ‘traditional’ sense of the word, but instead uses a belt-alternator-starter system, in which the electric motor contributes virtually nothing to propelling the vehicle, only allowing the engine to shut down when the car is stationary, and as a generator for regenerative braking," Benjamin noted.

He suggested that commercial failure of the hybrid Camry "would probably not have too great an effect on Toyota," which is heavily committed to hybrid systems. "For GM, the stakes are far greater," Benjamin added. "This is a big test: not just their first mass market hybrid vehicles, but ones based on high-volume, important models in their product lineup. It is also a big debut for the hybrid system that they've been developing with DaimlerChrysler. The hybrid fortunes of both companies depend on the success of that system. It will be very important to see how well it does."

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