cars burst onto scene at Frankfurt
FRANKFURT - Record fuel costs pushed
hybrid cars to centre stage at the
world's biggest car show this week
but automakers argued over whether
the rising popularity of petrol-electric
vehicles was just the result of
sniffed at as a fad by European
carmakers enamoured of modern diesel
motors that can be just as fuel
efficient, hybrids are on the ascendancy
as even erstwhile sceptics fall
into line and rush to offer products
with an environmental halo.
to the company that ignores the
customer," said Fritz Henderson,
chairman of General Motors Europe,
one of the seemingly few companies
at the Frankfurt show not to trumpet
a new hybrid offering or highlight
its plans to make one.
yoke a petrol or diesel engine to
at least one electric motor and
batteries that let cars run on electricity
at low speeds and which recharge
by capturing energy from braking.
cost thousands more than standard
engines, but are getting more of
a look-in as petrol prices get painful
and diesels remain rare in the crucial
US market, where many customers
think diesel motors belong in trucks,
Toyota Motor Corp, whose hybrid
Prius model has been a runaway hit,
thinks hybrids can gain more of
a foothold in Europe's diesel heartland.
believe in 10 years' time the world
will be filled with hybrid cars,"
Kazuo Okamoto, the world number-two
carmaker's head of research and
development, told reporters when
asked if hybrids would ever be more
than a niche product in Europe.
are coming down and the technology
is advancing, so hybrids won't be
limited to just big cars and SUVs,
he said, adding: "We are sure
that in the future the technology
will be used for smaller cars as
aims to sell around 20,000 Prius
cars in Europe this year and around
1 million hybrids annually around
the world by early in the next decade.
Its premium Lexus brand forecasts
that a quarter of its European sales
next year will be hybrids.
Schuster, head of global forecasting
at JD Power-LMC Automotive Forecasting,
said the fact that premium carmaker
BMW had joined DaimlerChrysler and
GM to co-develop advanced hybrids,
and that Mercedes-Benz showed two
concept hybrids in Frankfurt, proved
hybrids were no fad.
hedging their bets in acknowledging
that there is something to the hybrid
technology in terms of consumers'
wants and desires," he said.
Europeans' embrace of diesels means
hybrids won't ever have the same
popularity here as in the United
States, where Schuster said they
could grab 3.5 per cent of the market
by 2010-2012, the equivalent of
650,000 units a year.
volume could actually double in
the unlikely event that carmakers
drive down the premiums they charge
for hybrids, he added. A new Lexus
RX 400h luxury hybrid SUV, for instance,
costs some $12,000 more than its
older and slightly less fancy equivalent
with a conventional engine, he said.
a smart purchase. People want to
feel that they're doing the right
thing," one senior US auto
executive said of hybrid sales in
the United States.
fine for a small portion of the
population, but what about customers
who go into a showroom and say,
'Here's the monthly payment I can
afford, show me what you got'."
triumphant rise underscores that
fuel-cell cars remain far from commercially
viable. Widespread sales of fuel-cell
cars that run on hydrogen and emit
only water are probably still at
least a decade away, executives
the attention on hybrids crowded
out advances in other fuel-saving
technology such as burning biomass
or natural gas.
is perhaps an answer but there are
other ones," said GM Europe
President Carl-Peter Forster, noting
that a natural gas vehicle cost
half as much to run as a petrol-powered
car and around a third less than
not say hybrid is the solution to
all our problems," he said,
adding that politicians were wrong
to give hybrids favoured treatment.
Instead, they should set environmental
standards and let the market decide
how to meet them.