September 30, 2022

A Hankering for Hybrids

Results have, so far, fallen way short of expectations. Only about 36,000 battery-powered vehicles were sold this year through July, according to the auto research site And many of those sales were spurred by heavy discounts from car companies desperate to move electric models off the lot.

But for hybrid cars, it has been a different story. Automakers have sold about 298,000 hybrids, which alternately run on gasoline engines and battery power, so far this year.

And while electric vehicles may be considered greener and more glamorous, hybrids have quietly entered the mainstream of the American auto market.

Today, more than 40 conventional hybrid models are available, from mass-market automakers like Toyota and Ford to luxury brands like BMW and Mercedes. Hybrids account for about 3 percent of overall industry sales, with the market-leading Toyota Prius cracking the Top 10 list of best-selling passenger cars.

By contrast, automakers offer only about a dozen all-electric cars or plug-in models — which run on battery power with assistance from a gasoline engine — although more are on the way.

Industry analysts say that hybrid models are now showing up on the shopping lists of a broad range of consumers.

“Conventional hybrids are mainstream now,” said John O’Dell, the green-car editor at Edmunds. “You can envision almost anyone buying one.”

The reasons are many. Hybrids cost less than most electric models. There are no limitations on driving range based on battery power. And the technology, once seen as exotic and possibly unreliable, has been proved over time in real-world driving conditions.

One of the hybrid converts is Pandian Athirajan, an I.B.M. product manager in Austin, Tex. He had been considering buying a Prius for years before finally taking the plunge in May.

He bought the Prius to save gas and reduce vehicles emissions, but only because its hybrid system had been perfected by Toyota since it was introduced in 2000. “I wanted to buy a third-generation hybrid so that all kinks were ironed out,” Mr. Athirajan said.

For many consumers, price is the biggest factor in choosing a hybrid over a vehicle that runs primarily on battery power, though a $7,500 federal tax credit is available for plug-in models and all-electric cars.

For example, the base price for a regular, gasoline-powered Ford Fusion sedan is $21,900. The conventional hybrid version of the car goes for $26,200. But the plug-in variation costs $38,700. Faced with sluggish demand for electric vehicles, auto companies have increasingly been forced to slash prices to stimulate demand. Ford, for example, recently cut $4,000 from the price of its all-electric Focus.

Manufacturers are also fighting an uphill battle to win over consumers worried about the distances they can travel before recharging an a purely electric car.

That was one reason Mr. Athirajan chose a hybrid. Even though his hometown has several public charging stations, including one at his local Walmart, Mr. Athirajan was concerned about making the 300-mile drive to Houston twice a month to visit his daughter.

Mr. Athirajan said he was prepared to look into buying an electric vehicle in three or four years but that he thought the electric technology still needed to mature. He also said that four to six hours to charge the battery was too long.

“Most of the E.V. cars give anywhere between 75 to 125 miles between charge,” Mr. Athirajan said. “It will be O.K. for weekday office trips but not O.K. for weekend shopping and other trips, and definitely not suitable for my weekend trips to Houston.”

Article source:

Bucks: The Impact of Adding a Teenager to Your Auto Policy

Most parents watch their children learn to drive with trepidation. But the stress of watching them get behind the wheel is compounded by the financial shock of adding a teenager to an automobile insurance policy.

A married couple with two cars pays on average 84 percent more for car insurance — or about $2,000 extra — after adding a teenage driver to an existing policy, according to a new analysis commissioned by, an online insurance marketplace.

The national average annual premium for a 45-year-old couple with two cars is $2,283; adding a teenager to the policy boosts it to $4,202.

Boys are more expensive than girls, resulting in a 96 percent increase (compared with 72 percent for girls), on average.

“Teens are the riskiest drivers and the most expensive to insure,” said Laura Adams, senior insurance analyst at InsuranceQuotes. Teenagers are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

For the analysis, contracted with Quadrant Information Services, which used data from the largest auto insurance carriers in each state to calculate the impact of adding a driver between the ages of 16 and 19 to a family’s car insurance policy. [Read more…]

Article source:

In Car Sales, Good Month for Detroit, Not Japan

Although sales rose 7 percent from a year ago, the seasonally adjusted annualized selling rate fell to 11.5 million, below the level of 11.8 million in May. The selling rate, a closely watched measure of the industry’s health, topped 13 million in February, March and April.

“We continue to believe the economy will recover from the current short-term slowdown into the second half of the year,” Don Johnson, General Motors’ vice president for United States sales operations, said in a conference call. “Some consumers have decided to sit on their hands and delay purchases, but we view this as temporary.”

Sales fell 21 percent at Toyota and Honda — it was the worst June for both companies since 1997 — and 8 percent at Subaru.

Those declines contrasted with gains of 11 percent by G.M., 10 percent by Ford and 30 percent by Chrysler, which outsold Toyota for a second consecutive month. The Detroit carmakers accounted for more than half of sales for the first time since September 2008.

It was the 15th consecutive month that Chrysler posted a year-over-year gain and the company’s best June since 2007. Sales by its Jeep sport utility vehicles were up 74 percent last month, and popular new models introduced since its 2009 bankruptcy helped increase sales in the first half of the year by 20 percent.

Sales of the Toyota Prius fell 61 percent, to 4,340, an average of fewer than four per dealer and the lowest total for a month since September 2004, as the automaker struggled to restore availability after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March. Toyota said it had just 1,400 of the cars left in inventory but that 36,000 were on the way to the United States this summer.

Toyota officials said inventories were improving considerably as many plants returned to normal production levels and that the company would advertise more aggressively in July to ensure customers knew dealers had cars to sell.

“Consumers had the perception that they would simply not be able to find the car they’re looking for, and even if they did that they would have to pay an arm and a leg for it,” Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends and insight at, which tracks vehicle pricing and sales. Though availability is better than many shoppers might realize, he said, “it’s not going to be before the fourth quarter that we see a decent inventory mix for the Japanese automakers.”

For the first half of 2011, Toyota’s sales were down 4 percent from those in the period a year earlier, and Honda’s sales were up 3 percent. Chrysler’s sales were 21 percent higher from January through June, G.M.’s sales were up 17 percent and Ford’s rose 9 percent.

As in May, cars made by G.M. and Ford outsold their long-dominant rivals at Toyota and Honda. The Chevrolet Cruze, a compact car introduced by G.M. last year, was the nation’s top-selling car in June. G.M. and Ford executives said buying patterns shifted toward larger vehicles later in the month as gas prices dropped in much of the country.

Toyota responded to its inventory shortages by pulling many discounts, but it introduced new deals in June after traffic at dealerships slowed sharply.

“Things actually were going along pretty well in March and April, and the shortage hit us badly,” said Earl Stewart, owner of Earl Stewart Toyota in North Palm Beach, Fla.

His dealership sold 88 Prius cars in March but only 12 in June before running out. Mr. Stewart said his new-car department was profitable early in the year but lost money in May and June, as sales went from an average of 265 a month to about 140 in May and then 180 last month.

“They put the incentives back on, but you can’t un-ring a bell,” Mr. Stewart said. “The message got out to a lot of people. It had a psychological negative impact on the Toyota buyer.”

To keep shoppers from sitting on the sidelines — or worse, choosing a competitor’s readily available vehicle — Toyota and Honda have begun offering incentives to people who order a car even if it does not arrive at the dealership for several months. Normally, incentives are available only on vehicles that are in stock or delivered in the same month.

“Fortunately for them, Honda and Toyota customers are loyal to their brands and they’ve likely deferred their new-car purchases until inventory is available,” said Jessica Caldwell, director of industry analysis at, a Web site that provides car-buying information to consumers.

Toyota increased incentives by 31 percent from May, though the level remained about $500 a vehicle below the industry average of $2,165, reported.

Tight supplies of Japanese vehicles have helped push up prices across the industry by giving other carmakers less motivation to offer big discounts. Prices for small cars have risen the most, given the increased demand for fuel efficiency.

The industry’s average transaction price in June rose 2.9 percent from a year ago, to $30,009, topping $30,000 for the first time, according to

Analysts said they expected sales to remain somewhat sluggish through much of the summer but pick up later in the year.

“Incentive levels $500 below the first-quarter average and depleted vehicle inventory have added to the pressure as the month progressed,” said Jeff Schuster, the executive director of global forecasting for the research firm J. D. Power Associates. “However, the fundamentals remain in place for a marked return to the recovery pace set in the first four months of the year.”

Some automakers also said sales were hurt on Thursday — the last day of a month often accounts for considerable volume as dealers try to bolster their results — after California enacted a cut in its sales and vehicle taxes, effective Friday. The cuts save the buyer of a $25,000 car more than $350.

Article source:

Op-Ed Columnist: Is This Our Future?

No, what made the experience truly different — and what got me thinking about the Volt’s potential to change the way we think about gas consumption — was what happened after that.

You know the story of the Volt, don’t you? As the General Motors entry in the race to build a viable electric car — a race that includes the all-electric Nissan Leaf, a raft of Fords in various stages of development and an electric sedan that Tesla will soon begin selling — it may well be the most hyped American automobile since Lee Iacocca rolled out the Chrysler minivan. Begun four years ago, and championed by the legendary auto executive Bob Lutz, the Volt project managed to survive G.M.’s descent into bankruptcy, and emerge as the company’s great, shining hope, a symbol of what American car manufacturers could accomplish. Or so it’s been claimed.

Cars like the Leaf and the original Tesla — a Roadster that cost more than $100,000 — are “pure” electric vehicles powered solely by their batteries. Classic hybrids like the Toyota Prius use a battery as a kind of add-on, to boost the gas mileage of a combustion engine. The Volt, however, is engineered differently. As long as the battery has juice, the car acts like an electric vehicle. When the battery dies, the combustion engine takes over, and it becomes an old-fashioned gas-consuming car. Once you recharge the battery, electricity takes over again.

The experience of driving it meshes with the way we think about using a car. There is no need to plan ahead, for instance, to make sure the car won’t run out of battery life before we can recharge it. And the gas engine eliminates the dreaded “range anxiety” that prevents most people from embracing an electric vehicle. Indeed, G.M. likes to call the Volt an “extended range vehicle.” Motor Trend, the car enthusiasts’ bible, was so impressed that it named the Volt its 2011 car of the year.

The Volt went on sale last December. But because Chevrolet has been so cautious in rolling it out — dealers in only seven states have gotten cars so far, with fewer than 2,500 sold — it can sometimes seem like the world’s most publicized invisible car. (A bigger rollout is planned for next year.) Which is why I asked G.M. if I could test-drive it over the Memorial Day holiday. I wanted to see for myself what all the fuss was about.

For four days, I drove it around town, used it to pick up the groceries, took it to visit friends. Sometimes, when I walked out of a store, someone would be standing next to “my” Volt, wanting to ask me questions about it. Though I am no automotive expert, I was pleasantly surprised by the car’s power, pickup and handling. “People think it’s going to be a dorkmobile,” said Mr. Lutz, who retired last year. “But it’s fun to drive.”

Here’s what really got me, though: on the dashboard, alongside the gauge that measures the battery life, the Volt has another gauge that calculates the vehicle’s miles per gallon. During the two-hour drive to Southampton, I used two gallons of gas, a quarter of the tank. Thus, when I drove into the driveway, it read 50 miles per gallon.

The next day, after the overnight charge, I didn’t use any gas. After driving around 30 miles in the morning, I recharged it for a few hours while I puttered around the house. (It takes 10 hours to fully recharge, unless you buy a special 240-volt recharging unit.) That gave the battery 10 miles, more than enough to get me where I needed to go that evening on battery power alone. Before I knew it, my miles per gallon for that tankful of gas had hit 80. By the next day it had topped 100. I soon found myself obsessed with increasing my miles per gallon — and avoiding having to buy more gas. Whenever I got home from an errand, I would recharge it, even for a few hours, just to grab a few more miles of range. I was actually in control of how much gas I consumed, and it was a powerful feeling. By the time I gave the car back to General Motors, I had driven 300 miles, without using another drop of gas beyond the original two gallons. I’m not what you’d call a Sierra Club kind of guy, but I have to tell you: I was kind of proud of myself.

When I began to describe for Mr. Lutz the psychological effect the Volt had had on me, he chuckled. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s like playing a video game that is constantly giving you back your score.”

Article source: