The dismal economy is forcing companies, and individuals, to make tough decisions about what is essential, and what can get tossed aside to save a buck. In the past, car companies might have shelved green car technologies as nice-to-have but too expensive and not really critical. However, this time around, the world’s major automakers are holding firm to plans for hybrid gas-electric cars, pure electric vehicles, and other fuel-saving programs.
This commitment will be challenged as we approach the first anniversary of record-setting high gas prices and high hybrid sales—and reporter after reporter quotes annual declines in hybrid sales at 20 or 30 percent or higher. The hybrid market is unlikely to get a bounce from seasonal increases in gas prices this year. Oil price experts predict a maximum pump price of about $2.50 per gallon. Yet, as a new report from McKinsey Global Institute indicated last week, another oil price shock is in the works soon after the current global economic crisis ends and demand for fuel goes up. Auto companies are preparing.
The financial crisis is perhaps hitting GM harder than anyone else—but the company is not letting go of green. Edmunds, the auto consumer website, reported that GM’s Chevrolet Volt is still seen as vital to company’s future. “Given the challenges, we have with CAFE requirements and what consumers will demand, I don’t see any of those [green] initiatives going to the back burner,” said GM spokesman Kyle Johnson.
Honda is showing no signs of cutting back on its green plans. The company decided not to display at the Frankfurt Auto Show, and instead will use its European resources to strengthen new fuel-cell research and its hybrid vehicle portfolio, according to Edmunds. Honda posted 569 sales of the 2010 Honda Insight in its first week in the US, after recording higher than expected sales of the Insight in Japan.
Toyota is expanding the market for the 2010 Prius to 80 countries, with an annual goal of selling 400,000 units worldwide. And the company is planning 10 new hybrids globally by 2012. Ford is also trying to keep up. “I would love people in the future to say, ‘There’s Toyota and Honda and Ford,’ ” said Ford’s North American chief Mark Fields, in USA Today. It’s not a coincidence that Fields wants to keep company with the automakers that made the earliest commitment to hybrids, and continue to maintain a lead in the green car market.
Every major auto company, without exception, is continuing if not expanding its hybrid and electric plans. HybridCars.com spoke with Mark Perry, Nissan’s product planner, on the Sacramento, Calif. stop of its nationwide tour to promote the company’s upcoming practical and affordable electric car. “This is our future. We absolutely believe, from a pure sustainability standpoint, we have to, have to [repeats] get to electrification,” said Perry. “We’re not saying that gasoline motors are going to disappear tomorrow. But the market is going into a transition. We would rather be at the forefront than the backside.”