Mercedes S400 on road

The Mercedes S400 hybrid was the first hybrid from the luxury carmaker. Mercedes, and other luxury brands, will increasingly go hybrid.

Great hybrids. Big jumps in MPG. But luxury, all too often, means low volume.

The field of hybrid gas-electric vehicles is expected to triple from about 20 today to 60 or more by the middle of this decade. If current trends continue, much of that growth will come in the luxury segment. Ford will offer a Lincoln MKZ Hybrid—essentially a luxury version of the Ford Fusion Hybrid—later this year. That news, which leaked out prior to the official announcement from the New York Auto Show, follows last month’s reports from Mercedes and Lexus that more luxury hybrids are on the way.

Is the availability of the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid worth getting excited about? Yes and no. The MKZ Hybrid will beat the fuel economy of the Lexus HS 250h by about 6 mpg—while providing room for an additional passenger. Moreover, Lincoln’s first hybrid could more than double the conventional MKZ’s current 18 mpg in city mileage. That’s a big deal.

Unfortunately, the conventional Lincoln MKZ is not a big seller—so don’t expect much of an impact on overall hybrid sales. That follows a pattern in which Ford produces a stellar hybrid product and puts marketing dollars behind it—but fails to pump out enough units to raise it above niche status.

Luxury Brands Go All Hybrid

There’s more cause for celebration—sort of—for green car fans. Numerous media outlets are reporting that Mercedes-Benz will go 100-percent hybrid with its next-generation S-Class lineup in America—excluding the $130,000 AMG models. In other words, you won’t be able to buy an S-Class that doesn’t have a hybrid system—lifting the fuel economy of the entire line. Bear in mind that the S400 Hybrid is the least expensive of the S-class models—although it sells for nearly $90,000. The other S-Class models move up in price toward Tesla territory and beyond. That renders the impact of an all hybrid Mercedes segment as mostly symbolic—until Mercedes goes all hybrid for the relatively proletariat E or C classes.

On the other velvet-clad hand, the recently announced Lexus CT 250h luxury hatchback could really move the needle for hybrids. The Lexus CT 200h would be Lexus’s first compact car, and the first compact hybrid sold by Toyota in the US. The model could also become the least expensive Lexus model—maybe just above $30,000. And it will be Lexus’s most efficient—with mileage reaching toward Prius-levels.

The CT200h could go on sale in the US as early as next year, when it would become the fifth Lexus hybrid model. That pushes the hybrid-ness of the brand even further. No other brand has more gas-electric vehicles—and no other brand has hybrids from the top of the line to the bottom, and in every size from compact to SUV. The Lexus RX450 SUV and Lexus HS250h sedan are already produced in decent volumes, and were among the best-selling hybrids for most of the last year.

The hybrid wave was slowed down by the economic recession. But it’s looking more and more like the recovery is going to start with the luxury segment—and slowly make its way to plebeian brands of nearly every size and shape, and every price point.