Hybrid sales still a drop in the bucket
347,000 hybrid vehicles are likely to be sold in 2007, half of them Toyota Prius’s, according to automotive industry analysts, as reported by Fox News.
That’s not very many cars.
16,500,000 new cars and trucks were sold in the United States in 2006.
Assuming that 2007 sales equal those of last year, hybrids would account for a whopping 2% of the market.
There are, of course, a number of reasons for this. The top two are price and availability.
Hybrids cost more than equivalent gasoline powered vehicles and, of course, hybrid systems are available on only a limited number of models.
As well, there have been questions about whether hybrids are actually a good idea. The cost of manufacturing and eventually scrapping the hybrid drivetrain system, particularly the batteries, has been the target of studies which suggest that the overall energy consumption of a hybrid car exceeds that, over its lifetime, of a conventionally powered automobile. Perhaps more significantly, hybrids haven’t been on the market long enough to get to the point in their useful lives that the batteries need to be replaced. The average Prius is driven only 8,000 miles per years. At that rate, the car would be a decade old before the batteries might require replacement and would probably be worth so little that battery replacement wouldn’t make economic sense.
Of course, hybrid development is also in its early stages, and it can be expected that hybrid systems will become less expensive to produce and operate better as automakers gain more experience with them.
However, people at General Motors have said that they regard the hybrid as only a stop-gap, not a serious contender as a future automotive power plant system. The reason is the batteries. Absent development of a viable and safe lithium ion battery, the problems currently existing with hybrids won’t go away: the batteries will always be heavy, expensive to produce, and limited in the amount of energy they can supply. While development of a lithium ion battery would overcome many of those problems, development of a fuel cell powered vehicle would simply eliminate them.
So, the hybrid is more symbol than sales today.
And likely to remain so.