ShareThis Page
Consumers want MPG, but not at hybrid price |

Consumers want MPG, but not at hybrid price

| Saturday, February 4, 2012 12:00 a.m

Last week, the world’s automakers put on displays of fuel efficiency during the public policy days of the Washington Auto Show as bureaucrats of every description toured the show, huffing, puffing and pontificating over public policy as it applies to automobiles.

The show has become a magnet for automakers since the EPA raised the corporate average fuel economy. The new mandate, a lofty 54.5 mpg for the 2025 model year, sounds like a good idea.

But what happens when buyers hit the showroom is a different story altogether. There’s a reason for this, something politicians don’t understand.

“You can make all of the public policies you want. People don’t care,” said Rebecca Lindland, director of research at IHS Automotive. “They make decisions based on what’s going on inside their own home.”

This might explain her findings, revealed at the public policy days of the 2012 Washington Auto Show.

The big headline• Despite the fact that there are 29 gas-electric hybrid models on the market, hybrid car sales are falling. “We’re not buying the hybrid brand,” Lindland said. “People are buying Prius, but we’re not buying into hybrid technology; not when we’re getting such tremendous improvements in internal combustion engines.”

Nationally, hybrid market share has declined since it reached its market share peak of 2.78 percent in 2009. In 2011, it was 2.10 percent, according to AutoData.

Hybrids are being challenged by conventional cars that are more fuel-efficient than ever and command lower prices.

A midsize Hyundai Sonata returns 40 mpg in highway driving, while the Toyota Prius returns 48 mpg in highway driving. According to the EPA, it costs an additional $499 annually to fuel the Elantra, but it has a base price $8,175 lower. So, it would take more than 16 years of additional fuel costs to make up the difference in base prices between the two cars.

That’s not to say we aren’t buying more fuel-efficient vehicles; they’re just not as efficient as environmentalists or the government might want.

“Small car sales are growing, but it’s a push system in that the manufacturers are bringing them out because of fuel-economy standards,” Lindland said.

This explains why small-car sales grew 18.9 percent last year, according to AutoData, while crossover utility vehicle sales grew 26.8 percent, accounting for more than one in four new vehicle purchases. Trucks accounted for 52 percent of the new car market in 2011.

“All of those Chevrolet Suburbans we bought in 2000 and 2001 are all being swapped out for crossovers that consistently get anywhere from 15 to 25 percent better fuel economy,” Lindland explained.

Don’t expect people to ditch their Escalades for Elantras; it’s more like an Escalade for an Equinox.

“It’s not about fuel economy; it’s about the most fuel-efficient version. We are proud of ourselves when improve our fuel efficiency by 20 percent, but only if it’s the vehicle that we want to drive.”

All of this is a vivid reminder that while lawmakers may pass laws, we are the final arbiters of what is truly acceptable.

Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va.

Categories: News
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.