5/20/2010 | 2 MINUTE READ

The Hybrid Conundrum, Part 1 of 5

Facebook Share Icon LinkedIn Share Icon Twitter Share Icon Share by EMail icon Print Icon

Without government regulations and incentives, will the consumer demand exist to support production volumes?


Facebook Share Icon LinkedIn Share Icon Twitter Share Icon Share by EMail icon Print Icon

 For hybrids to become a mainstream powertrain choice, (1) gasoline prices must rise and stay at or near historic highs, (2) generous state and/or federal subsidies must continue, and (3) CO2 regulations must be enacted that force automakers and buyers to take the hybrid route. "Hybrid sales are driven mostly by economic, not environmental reasons," says William C. Jackson, senior vice president, Automotive, Transportation and Industrials, Booz & Co. Unfortunately for automakers traveling down the hybrid path, the recent reduction in government incentives for hybrid owners coincides with gas prices that have fallen below the threshold that makes them economically viable. However, a focus on CO2 emissions by the new administration could expand hybrid offerings. "The climate issue will drive penetration as hybrids effectively will be mandated," Jackson says. However, some OEMs believe hybrid penetration will grow even without this help.


According to Ford's David Finnegan, manager, Hybrid Marketing, "The Prius set the pace, but the base is broadening as availability increases across OEMs and technology improves." Breadth does not necessarily mean depth, however, as the technology options available to meet tighter fuel economy standards will keep hybrids a marginal play for most OEMs. In addition, Finnegan says consumer interest in hybrids is strongest for C- and C/D-class cars and small SUVs. Though he admits most buyers purchase a hybrid with the expectation of getting a payback via better fuel economy for the higher initial cost, an increasing number of customers look at a hybrid as a hedge against future gas price increases and as a way to reduce their environmental footprint. "The environmental factor helps balance the cost for a lot of people," he says. For the rest, hybrids will have to come down in price.

For a number of reasons, including cost, the Belt Alternator Starter (BAS) mild-hybrid system soon may be as common as lint. Says Ted Bohn, electrical engineer at the Argonne National Laboratory's Center for Transportation Research: "Within the next 5-10 years every car will have it, because you get a lot of benefit for very little added cost and complexity." Currently, most BAS systems are limited to engines at or below three liters and six cylinders. However, powertrains of this size are expected to see the greatest growth in the coming years, making their adoption easier. This also will give OEMs the capability to inexpensively improve fleet fuel economy without having to resort to full hybrids and plug-ins. Says Bohn: "Several studies show that a conventional hybrid displaces more petroleum than going all-electric, and a plug-in hybrid uses no less energy and creates no less carbon than a conventional hybrid." Barring a government mandate or another quick run-up in the price of gasoline, the market for hybrid technology may prove to be narrower and less technically complex than expected.

Hand holding a crystal ball

We’d rather send you $15 than rely on our crystal ball…

It’s Capital Spending Survey season and the manufacturing industry is counting on you to participate! Odds are that you received our 5-minute Metalworking survey from Automotive Design and Production in your mail or email. Fill it out and we’ll email you $15 to exchange for your choice of gift card or charitable donation. Are you in the U.S. and not sure you received the survey? Contact us to access it.

Help us inform the industry and everybody benefits.


  • Developing the 10th-Generation Honda Civic

    The 2016 model is all-new. As in platform and everything else. And the platform—which will have global use—was developed in North America.

  • Ford: Putting on the Top Hat

    Now automakers can reuse the basic architecture and structure of a vehicle but then put with vastly different body styles, or top hats, over them. Ford is the latest automaker to join the top hat revolution and it is moving aggressively forward with plans to use fewer global architectures over multiple vehicle segments to improve profitability and operational efficiency.

  • Creating a Low-Cost Chassis Architecture

    The engineers at Zenos Cars have combined recycled carbon fiber, drinking straws and aluminum to create a chassis for a low-volume sports car.