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Editorial: America does need hybrid car growth

As quickly as gas dropped below $2 per gallon, American's interest in hybrid cars crashed and sales of this car segment evaporated.

Hybrid car sales in May 2007, when gas was nearly $4, totaled more than 45,000 in the United States. Last month the hybrid vehicle sales nationwide barely broke 16,000.

What a difference $2 or less in gasoline costs makes.

However, the priority of hybrids for the American auto industry has not decreased. The industry faces increasing political pressure to build more hybrids. Public pressure for more hybrids may rebound as gas prices rise.

Toyota continues selling hybrids. Honda and Lexus will release new hybrid models in a few weeks. Ford, Chevrolet, Hyundai and Audi plan to deliver new hybrids in 2010. Chrysler is promising eight new hybrid models by 2015.

The challenge for the auto industry is it loses money on every hybrid vehicle it sells, which currently is 2 percent of U.S. vehicle sales.

Toyota finally started making money on its Prius hybrid line after nearly a decade of production.

While consumers are not currently buying hybrids and each vehicle sold costs an auto manufacturer, the auto industry continues to move forward with hybrid vehicle development.

And rightly so.

Because just as fast as American consumers' hybrid interest evaporated, it could rebound -- especially if gasoline returns to the $3 range, which is not out of the realm of possibilities.

The auto industry has to continue its development of its hybrid vehicle segment. Hybrids will be part of the long-term future of the auto industry, both foreign and domestic.