In an age where utility vehicles the size of military rigs are driven by countless households and overcompensating males nationwide, you wouldn’t think the idea of a smaller, gas efficient car would cross the average American consumer’s mind.
But indeed, hybrid petrol-electric cars, such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid, are becoming increasingly popular additions to American, and international, driveways.
“The companies can’t produce them fast enough,” said Chris Collier, a sales consultant at Spartan Toyota in Lansing, about the ever-increasing demand for the current king of hybridism, the Toyota Prius. “I’d estimate that over 45,000 were sold nationwide last year. Everyone plans on those numbers going up, too.”
[fast] To meet the surprise demand, Toyota announced its plans to push monthly global production up 50 percent this year and double the units in the United States to 100,000. Other carmakers are racing to catch up with the hybrid demand. Automotive research firm CSM Worldwide predicts about 20 new hybrid models to appear in America by 2007.
“Oh, it’s not a trend at all,” Collier said. “They’re here to stay.”
The Prius and its hybrid counterparts failed to gain much attention in their first few years of production, appealing to mostly wealthy environmentalists and car collectors. But after the Prius’s second-generation launched in 2003, it won esteemed industry awards – being named the European Car of the Year 2005 – and started a penetrating buzz within the automotive community.
Since its initial 1997 launch in Japan, only about 250,000 Priuses have been sold worldwide, fetching around $20,000 each. While these numbers still pale in comparison to industry sales standards, the Prius has carved itself a niche as a popular alternative to higher-pollutant combustion engines.
A hybrid car uses a combination of at least two different fuel sources for propulsion. Although many combinations of hybrids are possible, most include a gasoline internal combustion engine, an electric motor and a battery that powers the motor and saves energy for later use.
[car] Because they consume far less gasoline than standard full-combustion engines, hybrid cars possess superior gas economies and produce less carbon dioxide exhaust. “The Prius eliminates 90 percent of vehicle emissions and gets about 50 to 60 miles to the gallon,” Collier said. “That’s really the draw point that sets the hybrid cars apart from the rest.”
David Gard, an energy policy consultant with the Michigan Environmental Council, credits the demand boom for hybrids to a combination of geopolitics, fluctuating gas prices and fashion.
“There’s always been a pent-up desire to buy more economical cars,” Gard said, “but now people are getting comfortable with the idea that the technology isn’t out of the ordinary or out of grasp.”
Gard compounds the “pent-up desire” with current events surrounding the Middle East and the global warming phenomenon as the final push that has sent consumers down the hybrid road.
“In the transportation sector in this country alone, we produce more greenhouse effect than some smaller countries do all year,” Gard said. “I think people want to do more to stop the problem, just like they want to spend less on gas from countries we’re in conflict with.”
Like Collier, Gard sees no end in sight for the hybrid buzz. “People demand performance, fuel efficiency and possibly a status symbol. They want to show their friends that they care about the environment and still own a superior mode of transportation,” Gard said.

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