Looking Ahead at 2007

As we mentioned last month, 10 new hybrid models will be introduced this year, and six of them will come from the Big 3. 2007, it seems, will be the year that Detroit finally gets serious about hybrids. The question many hybrid owners are asking is, what took so long?

One answer may lie in the makeup of cars on the road in the Detroit area. Detroit should be at the forefront of automotive technology innovation: the area is home to the domestic auto industry and hosts events like the North American International Auto Show that showcase future vehicle designs. But as far as hybrids go, the Detroit area is no leader—carbuyers there lag well behind most of the country. In the first 11 months of 2006, residents of metro Detroit bought just over 2,000 hybrids, roughly the same amount that sold in cities half Detroit’s size, such as Raleigh/Durham, NC. In hybrids per capita, Detroit sits at the bottom of the list of major U.S. metropolitan areas, ranking 53rd out of 62 cities. Statewide, the picture is almost as bad: Michigan ranked 44th out of 50 states for hybrid sales per capita in the first eleven months of 2006.

Certainly one reason for Detroit’s low rates of hybrid adoption is the city’s loyalty to domestic auto brands. Many Detroit residents have ties to the Big 3 automakers, and are unlikely to buy any product (hybrid or not) from Toyota or Honda. But even the domestic brand hybrids (hybrid versions of the Ford Escape, Mercury Mariner, and Saturn Vue) aren’t well-supported in Detroit. Last November, residents of the Washington, DC area bought over twice as many hybrids from Ford and GM as residents of the Detroit area did. Among major metropolitan areas where the Ford Escape hybrid is most popular, Detroit isn’t even in the top ten.

Auto executives base their decision to launch a new vehicle on many factors, including market research collected from consumers across the U.S. But the vehicles they see on their morning commutes and in their neighbors’ driveways also influence their perceptions of what is popular and what is not. Six years after the launch of hybrids in the United States, auto executives in Michigan still have almost no exposure to hybrids. In contrast, leaders at Toyota and Honda see five times more hybrids on the roads of their home state, California. Until now, hybrids have been out-of sight, out-of-mind for many Big 3 executives. Sales in 2007 could begin to change their views.

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  • ORB

    Nothing wrong with Detroit natives buying the vehicles they make there. Remember Ford’s hybrids are assembled in Kansas City. Wonder how many Ford hybrids are quietly making their way through those streets? Any evidence of pride there?

  • Clarie

    That’s right, you covet what you see, and if nobody sees how quiet and un-stinky the hybrids are, they think everyone wants a clunky guzzler.

  • Tom from Lorain, Ohio

    For my next vehicle I want a hybrid and more importantly a hybrid that will run on ethanol also. In Lorain the local Ford shut down and now the company is even in more trouble. Most people from Ford thought hybrid buyers as communist and anti American. Now, it is even more clear that Ford tipped their hat to the oil companies and now they are broke with more Americans losing jobs. Now how anti-American is that.

    Ethanol sounds good but the politicans are putting a tax of .50 cents a gallon on foreign corn oil to help the farmers they say, but they openly welcome foreign oil. Now Japan is coming out with ethanol and hybrid vehicles are the big three are wishing that they did not have loyalty to the oil companies and have used the technology that they had in the 1930’s. Jay Leno has a hybrid from that time period that the oil companies put a stop on. I plan on buying thousands of dollers in Ford because if they get it right, I’ll be a rich, rich man. That is until I get a call from Uncle Sam.

    Another thing is that their are tons of people who work for Ford and file litigation against them every year, tons of people who work maintaince who get paid $40.00/hr and play cards all day. Also Ford does not listen to their workers on the line like Japan. I know because I come from a family with Ford workers. Management tells them to shut up, don’t stop the line, whereas Toyota encouraged inovation and stopping the line to perfect things, save energy, etc. Ford needs to get their head out of 1920’s managerial styles. A good example is Toyota 130.00 a share. Ford 8.00 a share. Any questions?

  • henry

    A year ago I went to Denver to buy a Ford Escape Hybrid. We test drove it and sat down to talk with the sales rep. The sales guy said we had an excellent credit rating, but he knew he could sell this car to somebody for whatever they were asking for it, and he had no reason to offer me any incentives or special financing or to even sell me the car. Well I left and I bought the #3 in fuel efficiency the Saturn Vue, Hybrid not out yet, one week later. A month later I get a call from the Ford manager asking why I didn’t buy the escape. I told him what happened. A week later Headline news reports that Ford can’t even sell the Escpape hybrid and they were offering all kinds of incentives and deals. By that time it was too late for me to buy a new car. If Ford is having problems it is due to their own flippant arrogant attitudes that loyalty to big oil and the big 3 will sell cars. As for me Saturn is a good car made in the US but not in Detroit. My saturn W2 wagon lasted 215K miles and would have kept going but it was getting to small for the family. Next time when I want I hybrid I will go to Saturn or to Japan. But Ford lost my business.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    My intelligent friends who work in Michigan in the auto industry are constantly bombarded with the propaganda that electric drivetrains do not make sense. This is the mantra that is constantly repeated throughout the Big 3. It is no wonder that hybrids are not popular.
    The interesting news is that Tesla Motors is opening an electric car design center just north of Detroit – AND THEY ARE HIRING! It should be interesting to see if opinions change when Tesla White-Stars start zipping around the streets of Detroit and creating jobs.

  • Michael

    Here in New York, FORD means “Fix Or Repair Daily”
    In my family we have had three Fords and they all needed transmissions at about 60,000 miles. They needed other repairs such as fuel pumps.
    Several of my friends are dissappointed with their Ford Windstars and Explorers.
    My neighbor who is a mechanic recommends not buying Fords.
    Ford, whether hybrid or not, has a very poor reputation around New York.

  • Collin

    This is a response to Henry (2007-02-06).

    I’m sorry my friend, I have to pick on you. This is the same dumb mistake we Americans are notorious for! You dealt with one individual at a privately owned Ford dealership. As far as I know ALL automobile dealerships are privately owned. You are not (really) dealing with Ford or GM. You are dealing with (Ma and Pa’s Ford or Joe Football Player’s Chevy). Your upset is quite misguided.

    Also, the loyalty is not to Big Oil. The loyalty is to big profit. On a big vehicle Ford makes a big profit. On a small vehicle Ford makes a small profit. Ford simply makes more on an Expedition than they make on an Escort.

    Now, of course, you can’t blame the dealer for Ford’s decision to make vehicles that customers do not want. Other than a few exceptions (i.e. Escape Hybrid, The Edge and most of their trucks) Ford is still not building appealing vehicles.