Nearly every automaker now offers some type of hybrid technology, and at this week’s Los Angeles Auto Show, extra floor space and advertising buzz has caught the mainstream media’s attention.
As a case in point, NPR posted a story online today in anticipation of the outsized influence hybrids are effectively wielding. The story’s angle contends this is an indicator that manufacturers are doing all they can to shape buying decisions in hybrids’ favor, and it asks what it will mean.
“If you watch TV, you might think the hybrid was king judging by the sheer amount of ads for cars like the Toyota Prius or Ford Fusion hybrid,” NPR wrote. “But that’s far from true: Hybrid sales are under 3 percent of 13 million cars sold in the U.S.
Trying to get a grasp on the perceived chutzpah, NPR cited an auto journalist who effectively observed with a fairly jaded perspective that “automakers want you to think their hybrid is the next big thing.”
“They want you to think of their company as primarily a green company,” said AutoTrader.com’s Brian Moody. “So the more they can get that message out, then the less ill you might think of them — and you may buy one of their cars even if it isn’t a hybrid.”
But in the event all those scheming automakers who’ve painted themselves green get too high in the clouds, NPR takes a pin to this bubble observing hybrids are still a tough sell to say the least.
“Nearly half of consumers say they’ll never consider buying a hybrid, according to a recent survey by Kelley Blue Book,” NPR wrote. “Moody says the main reason is price — hybrids cost thousands more than comparable gasoline-powered models.”
While maintaining an overall bearish posture, NPR then opens the floor to others who observe more ways in which hybrids have been at a disadvantage, but could now be in an advantaged position.
Looking at their history, and that hybrids have been tried before, a senior curator at the Henry Ford museum, Bob Casey, said as far back as the early decades of the 20th century there was “no demand for it.”
But that was when gasoline was cheap and plentiful, and there were no emissions regulations like we have today, NPR correctly points out.
Coming back to today, NPR’s brief report to its comparatively large audience finishes up saying maybe there is something to these hybrids after all.
Or rather, Bob Carter, president of Toyota North America said so, after plugging his company and the Prius as heavily, but discretely as he could by saying after 10 years the top-selling Prius still has no viable competitor on the market.
“I really truly believe the Prius will define the company in the future, and as we get into later in the decade, the Prius will probably upset Camry to become the No. 1 nameplate in the U.S,” Carter says. “I’m confident enough to [say] publicly that that’s my own personal feeling.”
What is the truth?
Brief reports, while potentially influential in shaping surface public opinions are only that. For those in favor of hybrids and advanced-tech vehicles for the myriad reasons they make sense now, these could be interesting times.
Fact is, some consumers are, to put it politely, a little behind in what they know. A poll in March of this year questioning 1,898 new car buyers and shoppers showed many of them have no idea what is true.
For example, about a third answered that battery electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf produce tailpipe emissions. Just over one half did not know it takes more than 15 minutes to recharge them. About 77 percent said hybrids are fueled by hydrogen, and 72 percent said hybrids have zero tailpipe emissions.
It would appear some people are following along at a distance, and now automakers are spending more marketing dollars encouraging them to jump on board, while the mainstream media also follows behind dutifully chronicling the potential rise of the hybrid.
For those in favor, it’s all moving in a positive direction. In the technological race to replace gasoline power as a sole motive power source, time will tell, but hybrids are getting a leg up by those with the most on the line, and potentially most to gain or lose: their manufacturers.
And for consumers – the savvy, and the ones who will follow – this rise in intensity will likely only mean more choices and innovation as the competition continues to heat up.