Soccer moms seeking a hybrid to haul more than five passengers have, until now, been ignored by automakers. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid and other full-size SUVs offer third-row seating, but those vehicles are bigger, heavier and more expensive than many families require.
How about a new format, something like a hatchback with a higher seating position, sportier looks than a station wagon, and with third-row seating? Well, that description is a good fit for new hybrids from Toyota and Ford. Toyota will have its segment-bending hybrid on the market next year in the United States, but Ford believes the formula only works for Europe.
Last week, Toyota teased the first images of the Prius V—a new version of the quintessential hybrid morphed into a people-mover similar in size to the Mazda5 small minivan. The Prius V has a higher roof, and a broader rear end with upright window—and possibly a third-row of seats. Toyota will show off the Prius V at the upcoming Detroit Auto Show. All we know so far is that it probably will have a 2.5-liter engine, and according to Toyota, it will offer “more comfort, style and versatility.”
The redesigned conventional Ford C-Max and Grand C-Max models go on sale next month across the pond, where European customers will be offered a choice of three engines: a new 1.6-liter Ford Ecoboost gasoline direct-injection engine that offers a 20 percent fuel economy improvement over the 2.0 it replaces; as well as 1.6- and 2.0-liter diesel versions. Ford announced in May that it will eventually build both a conventional hybrid and plug-in hybrid version of its C-Max wagon-esque vehicle by 2013.
But what alternative fuel-efficient C-Max options do we get in the U.S.? Bupkis.
Automotive News today confirmed that Ford believes the five-seat C-Max isn’t big enough for American tastes, and that U.S. buyers won’t want a diesel. Instead, U.S. customers will only get the gasoline-powered seven-seat C-Max.
In May, Ford’s Nancy Gioia, director of vehicle electrification, told us: “Because Europe has a high penetration of diesel, we continue to have highly efficient, low CO2 diesel alternatives, such as our Econetic offerings and technologies, as our cornerstone across Europe. Our market feedback also shows interest in hybrids, plug-in hybrids and full battery electric vehicles.”
So, hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants of small European models, but no help from Ford for U.S. families wanting a diesel or hybrid seven-seater. Those customers can consider the gas-version of the C-Max or Mazda5—or see if the Toyota Prius V is the first family-focused hybrid. Then again, Honda is hinting at a Odyssey Hybrid. The hybrid-driving Soccer Mom is still waiting.