7 of the 10 best selling vehicles in America, and their hybrid versions
Is there any way to turn the tide? A gas tax? Hybrid specific designs?
How much does a gallon of gas truly cost? Unfortunately, the answer to that question isn’t that easy, but it’s obvious that a gallon of gasoline costs more than it does at the pump.
But, without a more realistic gasoline price — for starters — the latest auto sales data demonstrates just how difficult automotive change is going to be. The data also suggests that offering hybrid versions of conventional vehicles isn’t the best path to greater hybrid penetration
In October, pickup trucks once again dominated US auto sales as they have for decades. The rest of the top 10 was filled out with small SUVs and large sedans. Interestingly, 6 out of the 10 top sellers come in a hybrid option, while another, the Honda Accord will again come in a hybrid option soon. Of course, the Ford Escape hybrid is being phased out next year.
It’s all about the hybrid label, or is it the design?
There was a time when many claimed that the Toyota Prius only sold well because of its unique shape, the key feature smug Prius owners coveted. I’ve never really bought that story. Sure, it’s part of the equation for some buyers, but mostly that’s just a belief of smug hybrid cynics.
Nevertheless, there is a new automotive formula that has been highlighted by the success of the Prius — a breaking out of the box, if you will. Unfortunately, just adding a hybrid drive to a conventional vehicle is a tough sale’s proposition until battery costs decline significantly, but hybrid-driven designs, however, have the potential to resonate.
Eventually, fortunately, the necessary battery cost declines should occur, but it will also have to counter newer and cheaper technologies, such as turbocharging, engine downsizing, etc. And that brings me back to the Prius.
Many Prius skeptics have been converted by simply sitting in a Prius. I remember many years ago comparing the 2nd gen Prius with the first gen Ford Escape hybrid. Other than a higher ride, the Prius was clearly the better car as it offered more cargo and interior space, much better fuel economy and a much cheaper price. In many ways the functionality of the Prius defies expectations as it almost warps space into a more practical mobile incarnation.
And that’s what hybrid vehicles need to build upon. Hybrids don’t need stickers or labels, they need to redefine the automotive space. Instead of offering the Chevy Silverado hybrid, for instance, GM should have completely redesigned an entirely new pickup truck around a hybrid drive, building on hybrid strengths. Such a hybrid pickup truck, to be sure, wouldn’t challenge conventional pickup sales, but it could help many consumers realize they don’t all the functionality of a full-sized pickup.
At the end of the day, just offering hybrid versions of conventional vehicles might help trick CAFE ratings, but it won’t sell many more hybrids.
Unfortunately, designing lines of vehicles specifically for hybrid technologies isn’t as scalable as automakers would like, but as we head into the future, I’ll bet more and more automakers are going to give it a try. Inevitably, the future isn’t just about plugs and batteries, but also entirely new vehicle designs.