THE BLOG

A Hybrid for Everyone

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

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As the number of different hybrid models available in the U.S. approaches a baker's dozen, one has to wonder if these machines will ever really take off. To me, they already have, but others still remain on the fence.

Automotive industry experts will point out that hybrids as a group remain a very low percentage of overall sales and sales are directly impacted by the price of gasoline. If gas prices climb, so will sales for hybrids. Seems logical.

However, Toyota Motor Co. has reported selling over 1 million Priuses and as the number of hybrid vehicles grows, the number of people buying them will increase. Also makes sense.

Additionally, hybrid has become synonymous with green, and consumer thinking has changed
dramatically over the past three years. It was back then that many people were discussing the return on investment -- ROI -- citing that the additional cost of a hybrid would never be recouped through gas savings.

It was the empirical approach that technically is correct but never included the emotions of buying a hybrid. Sure, a Honda Fit or Chevy Cobalt cost less than any hybrid, and they provide good gas mileage and decent driving dynamics. Buy one of those, save $10 grand over a hybrid and you'll never spend the difference because of gas mileage.

Logic and emotions rarely equate well.

Gas-only cars lack the same connection a hybrid creates, whether it be a Prius, a Fusion or a Mercedes.

The gas-only cars never give you that silent start or electric whirl a hybrid rewards you with every day.

Additionally, if a carmaker wants to earn a reputation as a green car company, it seems essential that they offer a two-mode gas electric hybrid. Many still do not.

Thursday, I picked the best hybrid car for consumers for The Detroit News. There shouldn't be too much surprise that the winner was the Toyota Prius: 50 mpg cleans up on the competition. It's 5 mpg better than the No. 2 performer, the Honda Civic hybrid, and more than 10 mpg than most of the competition.

What struck me about all of the hybrid offerings -- and they span in price from under $20,000 for the Honda Insight to more than $100,000 for the Lexus 600h -- was the high quality, good price and excellent performance of so many of these machines.

For the money, you cannot buy a more technologically advanced automobile. Most have starting prices under $30,000 and most push 40 mpg. Their emissions are cleaner than regular gasoline cars and some are starting to outperform even diesel models on the highway.

In the coming year, there could be as many as another half dozen two-mode hybrids, as well as some of the first affordable all-electric cars to arrive in the U.S.

For green car consumers, there has never been a more exciting time.

Hybrids may not hit high volume numbers for years, but they demonstrate that quality over quantity will move a vehicle into the mainstream much faster than just about anything else.