Report: Carmakers Squander Fuel-Saving Potential of Hybrids, Pad MSRPs With Forced Features

The Union of Concerned Scientists has released its annual Hybrid Scorecard for 2011. The group found that the auto industry often wastes the fuel-saving potential of gas-electric technology, delivering paltry fuel economy gains and pricing the cars out of the reach of most consumers. The best-scoring hybrid by far was the Toyota Prius, which tallied an environmental improvement score of 9.2, with second and third place going to the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Honda Civic Hybrid, receiving a 7.8 and 7.4, respectively.

“It’s not just the Toyota Prius and everyone else anymore,” said the study’s author, Don Anair, in a press release. “Automakers from Ford to Hyundai and Honda to Nissan are using hybrid technology to boost fuel economy and cut pollution without breaking the bank for consumers.”

Still, the group found that most hybrids fail to live up to their potential. Though nine of the top ten hybrid models offer fuel economy of greater than 30 mpg and score better than average on the report card, many gas-electrics are far from being a good value proposition—regardless of how a consumer weighs fuel or emissions savings. “Automakers are still producing hybrids that fail to deliver on the technology’s potential to dramatically improve fuel economy,” said Anair.

The two areas where luxury and light-duty hybrids in particular seemed to fail were improved fuel economy and price premium, which the UCS says is often created when carmakers force hybrid buyers to pay for features that don’t come standard on non-hybrid base model equivalents. In the case of some vehicles, this can add thousands of extra dollars to the price of a car.

The UCS also criticized automakers for dedicating too much of the supplemental electric motor boost offered in hybrids to improved performance, and not enough to decreasing the workload of the gasoline engine. Some of the lower-scoring hybrids in the study achieve fuel economy gains of just 2 mpg compared to conventional models.

Overall, the group says that hybrid options have improved for car buyers—particularly among the best-selling models. Automakers seem to be listening to consumer calls for maximized fuel economy at as little added cost as possible, but the change continues to be gradual.


  • Capt. Concernicus

    Well my 2nd gen Prius averages 50.5 mpg so I would say that Toyota is living up to the potential and hype that is out there. The Lexus hybrid gets very good fuel economy, averaging more than 40 mpg combined. Sure it’s somewhat pricey, but it is a Lexus and you know you’re going to pay a brand premium.

    The Silverado gains 2 mpg in hybrid mode. Hardly something to write home about.

  • Max Reid

    Next year, Ford C-Max is coming in Hybrid & Plugin versions. This will compete directly against Prius Hybrid & Plugin. Competition will force some price declines and will increase Hybrid sales.

    Also Prius-C at lower prices should give a boost. Lets hope for the best.

  • James Davis

    How come the USC did not mention the Chevy Volt? According to the add to the right of this article, “It is the 2011 North American car of the year.” Since it is the 2011 North American car of the year, shouldn’t the Volt out perform and out sell every car in America, and have the highest MPG and MPC and the lowest sticker price of any car in America? Where does it stand in improving the fuel economy and getting us away from foreign oil? We already know the Volt’s price is out of sight of every working family in America. Why was the Volt elected the 2011 North American car of the year? What does it have that the other electric, hybrids and ICE cars do not have that got it elected the 2011 North American car of the year, and who elected it the 2011 North American car of the year, and why didn’t USC report on this incredible car of the year for 2011?

  • Old Man Crowder

    Maybe I’m overly cynical, but doesn’t this study seem like simply stating the obvious?

    Sure I’ll pay a premium for the hybrid technology, but why force me to also pay for the headlight wipers, baby seal hubcaps, on-demand movies and other stuff I don’t need and would never add to the “regular” version of the same vehicle?

    Make the same vehicle; one with a gasoline engine, the other with a hybrid engine. Don’t “fancy up” the hybrid. I can do that myself.

  • usbseawolf2000

    “Why was the Volt elected the 2011 North American car of the year?”

    We don’t know. It was elected before the official EPA figures came out. One can assume it was based on hype.

  • star

    The volt is the first series hybrid produced by a major auto company. Unlike the prius which runs primarily on gas, the volt will run the first 25 to 50 miles on electricity alone. For most people this means that if they only take the occasional long trip the volt will only cost them about $1.50 in electricity a day.

  • Oldarmyag

    The Leaf might as well have an Infinity tag on it. It is by far one of the most comfortable cars I have ever sat in, but do I need all that luxury to drive to/from work? NOT. Give me a Leaf with all the features of my bare-bones Prius and I might be interested.

  • IcanhasEV

    I have close to 70k problem-free miles on my ’06 Civic Hybrid, and I’m averaging 44mpg. The only option there was when I bought it was a navigation radio. I had the choice of 4 exterior and 2 interior colors. Things certainly have changed in a few years. There are far more options to choose from now. Looking forward to an EV in the near future!

  • Shines

    OK, I need to play the devil’s advocate here. I don’t know what the concerned scientists are complaining about. This is America – you can have your choice. A truely efficient relatively inexpensive hybrid (Prius or Insight), efficient hybrids within classes (Fusion, Sonata, Camry, Escape, Highlander, EH250H etc…) or you can get the hybrids connected to V6s and V8s for performance boosting. What law says a hybrid must improve fuel efficiency? As far as the hybrids having the baby seal hubcaps and on demand movies, everyone should know that the profits are highest on luxury vehicles. The luxury items help compensate for the additional cost of the hybrid technology. More choices are good – even if they are bad (like the one pictured above ;-b).

  • skeckyvegas

    “You can have your choice”???
    Not in this country, negro. Not when the big automakers are in collusion to keep the gas-guzzlers on the road for as long as possible. Why do you think the gist of this article was about the manufacturers having forced features on energy efficient vehicles, just to drive up the price? Or that they purposely hold back the potential on true fuel efficiency?
    These scumbags have ties to Big Oil so close and for so long, they practically wear each other’s underalls. Keep it Big! Keep it Oily!
    Not to mention they never want to pay to re-tool their plants, in order to make the cars people are now clamoring for. They’ll still blame labor costs, or how it’s not cost effective for them “in the present juncture” (whatever the hell that means), or they’ll come up with some other excuse to delay the transition to EV tech. They need to get rid of the freakin’ trucks they have now before they’ll try anything new. But the more they sell off their freakin’ trucks, they more they build to replace them. As as long as they can sell without getting off the pony ride, the less reason they need to try.
    One of these days, though, baby, these no-nothing yahoos will wake up to find that nobody is buying their 5-ton penis-mobiles anymore. It’ll hit them hard, and it’ll hit them fast. Only THEN will you an attempt to a transition. But by then the fat will be in the fire, and their gooses will be cooked.
    Remember a little company called VW in the ’60-70′s?

  • skeckyvegas

    That being said, the Big 3 could make EVs and hybrids cheaper by simply offering a base vehicle design (with corresponding price) and then have all those add-on’s as ala carte features.
    Not everyone clamors for an iPod attachment. Or GPS system. Or ass warmers in the seats.
    Let the yahoos who want those pay for them as extras and leave the base model for the rest of us.
    ‘Nuff said…

  • Shines

    skecky you say: the big automakers are in collusion to keep the gas-guzzlers on the road for as long as possible.
    I say: as long as gas is cheap people will buy these big tanks.
    People don’t want to hear this, but putting a big tax on gasoline (and use it to improve the EV and other infrastructure) will get people to think twice about buying these big beasts.

  • Fred133

    I have heard a lot about raising the price of gas to drive the sale of hybrid vehicles. What about the truckers, last I heard most of America is delivered on the back of trucks? What about the people who can not afford to purchase a new vehicle? If you are set on raising gas to force people to purchase what you want then why not tell us what make and model of car we should purchase? Please note that if everyone in America drove an electric vehicle, we would still be dependant on oil. Less dependant yes, but still dependant.

  • Rayman

    There is a huge potential in saving fuel and pollution in the education of American drivers. The typical driver approaches driving as if in a high state of anxiety, ETA anxiety. Something about driving fast regardless of the cost. While most of us complain about the cost of fuel, most of us do NOTHING to lower the use of said fuel. Speeding, in contrary to the visual perception of going fast, does not save time on our usual drives because of: traffic, traffic lights, road design and the short distances we normally drive. To go 70 mph for 7 miles compared to driving 60 mph reduces ETA about 7 seconds per mile. That is less than 1 minute! while using 25% to 39% more gas depending on how much you get to use the gas and brake pedals. The visual illusion of your passing 50 vehicles as you fight your way ahead of a line of cars is just that: illusion. If I were to follow you and drive 60 mph I would arrive less than 1 minute later with way more gas and just catch up with you. Multiply that by the number of times a week and you have 400 bucks more, at least, that you have donated to the oil companies. Check it out. I have. I am going to Europe in September for 3 weeks with all the money I have saved these last two years. Good luck.

  • tapra1

    hen carmakers force hybrid buyers to pay for features that don’t come standard on non-hybrid base model equivalents. In the case of some vehicles, this can add thousands of extra dollars to the price of a car.Engg Blog