The Huge Hybrid: Few Takers for a New S.U.V. Twist

The Huge Hybrid: Few Takers for a New S.U.V. Twist http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/31/business/31hybrids.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin
DETROIT — They’ve been criticized as gas hogs, dinosaurs and land yachts.
Now Detroit is hoping to cast its biggest sport utility vehicles in a new light: green.
General Motors and Chrysler are betting that their 5,500-pound, eight-seat S.U.V.’s — long the scourge of environmentalists — can be reformed as hybrid models, albeit ones getting 20 miles to the gallon.
Consumers have been slow to embrace the first two models from G.M., which are relatively new to the market.
G.M. has sold about 1,100 of its Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon hybrids since their introduction in January, according to company sales briefings. That pace is well behind its goal of 12,000 sales a year, and a fraction of the more than 100,000 hybrids sold so far in the United States this year.
“To this point, the G.M. hybrids aren’t getting any traction at all,” said Mike Omotoso, a senior manager with the research firm J. D. Power & Associates.
Giving a four-wheel drive Tahoe a gas-electric hybrid engine raises fuel economy for city driving to 20 miles a gallon from 14.
But to get the better mileage, consumers pay a high price: $53,000, at least $4,000 more than a conventional Tahoe.
Environmentalists see the jumbo hybrids as a small step forward in the effort to reduce America’s fuel consumption.
“Is this a green vehicle? I think it could be a lot greener,” said David Friedman, research director of the vehicles program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit group in Washington that focuses on the environment. “The question is whether the improvement in fuel economy is worth the cost.”
Hybrid or not, large S.U.V.’s are fading fast in a market that is shifting quickly to smaller cars and crossovers, S.U.V.-like vehicles built on a car chassis.
Last year, traditional, truck-based S.U.V.’s — once the king of Detroit’s fleets and a huge source of profits — accounted for 8 percent of the nation’s market. But recently sales have dropped to 4 percent, according to the research firm R. L. Polk.
With gas prices surging to $4 a gallon, Americans are downsizing their cars drastically. One in five vehicles sold now is a compact car, and the move to smaller vehicles is accelerating.
G.M. plans to follow the Tahoe and Yukon with hybrid versions of the Cadillac Escalade and Chevrolet Silverado pickup. Chrysler is planning hybrids of its Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen sport utilities and the Dodge Ram pickup.
But the behemoth hybrids seem out of step in a marketplace dominated by smaller hybrid models that can get more than 40 miles to the gallon.
Toyota sold 64,000 Priuses through April, a 23 percent increase over 2007. It now ranks as the ninth-best-selling car in the United States.
And while G.M. and Chrysler are converting their biggest vehicles into hybrids, other automakers are going in the other direction. Honda, for example, recently said it would build a hybrid version of its Fit subcompact.
Hybrid technology pairs an electric motor with a gas engine, allowing the vehicle to run on electricity when idling and at slow speeds.
The benefits in fuel economy are significant, particularly in city driving. The hybrid version of the Toyota Camry gets 33 miles a gallon in city traffic, compared with 21 for a conventional Camry.
Despite the slow start for the Yukon and Tahoe hybrids, G.M. officials said they are pleased with the initial market reaction.
At Chrysler, sales of big S.U.V.’s have plunged 22 percent this year. But a spokesman for the automaker, Nick Cappa, said adding hybrids, which will be available this fall, reflected the company’s commitment to the full-size sport utility market.
“Why shouldn’t people with large S.U.V.’s, who need that kind of utility, be able to get a hybrid?” said Mr. Cappa.
The third Detroit automaker, the Ford Motor Company, has no plans to convert its full-size S.U.V.’s to hybrids.
A Ford spokesman, Jim Cain, said the company expected customers needing a fuel-efficient, larger vehicle to choose the new Flex crossover, a seven-passenger model with a V-6 engine that gets 24 miles to the gallon.
The advent of S.U.V.’s and pickup hybrids fills in two of the remaining gaps in the spectrum of hybrid models.
With the exception of sports cars and minivans, hybrids are now represented in most of the major automotive segments in the United States. Toyota’s Lexus luxury division sells hybrids at the upper end of the market with its LS 600h sedan and its RX 400h crossover, neither of which has sold in big numbers.
G.M. is hedging its bet with the Tahoe and Yukon hybrids. Most of its dealers do not even carry the vehicles in stock. Instead, they order from a central pool.
“You have to wonder if G.M. is really committed to this, or just using them for public relations purposes,” said Mr. Friedman of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The high cost of the hybrid S.U.V.’s could limit their sales more than any other factor.
Glenn Galvan of Reno, Nev., was hoping to replace his Honda pickup with one of the G.M. hybrids until he saw the prices. “I don’t mind paying the extra cost for environmental reasons, but it doesn’t have near enough fuel savings to justify it,” he said.
But a couple in Longview, Tex., Michael and Cindy Pittmon, have found that their Yukon hybrid was worth the investment. “I’m getting 20.8 miles to the gallon compared to 13 on my old Yukon,” Mrs. Pittmon said. “It costs $75 to fill it up, and that’s lasting me two weeks instead of one.”
She said that the big hybrid generates quite a bit of attention at stoplights and in shopping malls, particularly because of multiple “hybrid” badges and decals that G.M. put on the exterior.
“People are always saying, oh, they didn’t realize that hybrids came this big,” she said. “But I’m thinking about taking some of the badges off so it doesn’t stand out as much.”
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The problem with calling everything a hybrid if it can use electrical power(ep) alone sometime and combustion(cb) sometime. There is a need to have more variation in what is meant. If you take ordinary cb and just add a bigger starter to say you have added ep is completely and utterly different if you design the car from the outset as an ep and provide a cb to refresh the batteries.
Ordinary cb car has a hell of a lot of moving elements related to giving power to the wheels directly and it does not change much if you add ev to it.
A new design with a generator in each wheel to turn the wheel as well as regenerate electicity to refresh the batteries when used as brakes. It is basically an electrical car and only uses batteries for its power. In order to make the batteries last longer you add a cb to refresh the batteries. The cb can also be used to generate heat for the passenger cabin.
With an ep you need a lot less moving parts than in a cb.
So a cb hybrid is totally different from an ep hybrid.
There are very often conficts in discussions when one person is talking about a hybrid and meaning ep hybrid and another also talking about a hybrid but meaning cb hybrid. They can easily both be right but will never come close to agreeing on anything.
I like hybrid to mean ep hybrid and cb hybrid should be called a conventional cb with a big starter.
cb hybrid is no hybrid in most sense and it only confuses the discussion to use the word hybrid for such cars.
ep hybrid are more or less new breed of cars with new options. They are basically electrical cars with a built in powerstation to refresh the batteries.
It would be interesting to see how many of the so called hybrids are really anything more than a cb.
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The environuts need to come out into the real world, not everybody can get by with a four of five passenger vehicle. Does it really make sense to pay an extra $4,000 to buy ANY hybrid? Toyota and Honda both make hybrid cars that cost $4,000 more than the comparable sized conventionally powered cars. The $4,000 premium will buy ALL of the FUEL for the conventionally powered cars for FOUR years. The average new vehicle buyer in the US buys another new vehicle in four years.
It seems it would make more sense for a family of six or seven to buy a hybrid because they can travel in one vehicle rather than two smaller vehicles when they need to go together. It is more cost effect to pay $4,000 more for a vehicle that sells for $25,000 than one that sells for $35,000 with conventionally powered in any event
Toyota and Honda surely must look at their own sales figures. The must know their customers by more of the bigger safer midsize car than the less safe midget and small cars they offer for sale.

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Mike hunt turned on the Etch-A-Sketch and wrote:

Concur!
Just today, I loaded my two boys, their two friends, my wife, two bikes and four scooters - along with all the baseball crap - into the truck for a ride to the park.
For a month I was cramped in a subcompact dodge magnum. Though it got 30MPG, I couldn't fit jack in there.

I'd say not.

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