Recently Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn said, "They [Hybrid Automobiles] make a nice story, but they're not a good business story yet because the value is lower than their costs," However, the point that Mr. Ghosn is missing is that the market and the value for hybrids is growing. Recent press from the Detriot Auto Show remarks that the "Wow Factor" for hybrids is over, now comes the hard part of capturing market segment and making the product profitable.
While at the gym this evening I was watching CNBC with the sound off, listening to my iPod. I was unable to know the additional information about the hybrids until I got out of the gym and did a little sifting on the internet. What I did see on the TV was simply that the number of sales of hybrids has grown exponentially since their inception in the ninties, from total sales in the tens of thousands, to now sales in the hundreds of thousands with projected numbers for sales by 2006 continuing to rise exponentially. While mainstream auto executives seem to be saying that hybrids will never catch on and that they will, "never command more than 15% of the auto market," I cannot say I entirely agree.
While I believe that convincing drivers like my younger and older brothers, true auto enthusiasts to trade in their finely tuned German machines for a Toyota Prius is a nearly impossible sell- I do believe that their are other drivers that would and one of them is- me. As much as I admire sports cars, companies like Toyota are beginning to make a larger number of their vehicles like the Highlander into hybrids as well as autos from their Lexus division and I think I could be sold on buying one with the promise that I would save money on gas in the future.
My thoughts on this tie into my feelings that in markets where gas is increasingly expensive, consumers are increasingly going to say- to hell with testosterone inducing performance, give me fuel economy- I'll drive my '67 corvette on weekends with the money I save driving my hybrid during the week.
In addition, an article I recently read said that the city of Providence has invested in a small number of hybrid autos for various city functions. I have already heard of several U.S. and Canadian cities that have made the investments in fuel cell powered buses for municipal public transport. In these various government functions where the primary concern for vehicles is an effecient movement of people, I believe we may see a continued increase in the purchase of alternatively fueled vehicles. Not only do I see this potentially moving into the private sector, I also believe this should come as no suprise- for years utility companies, bus companies, trucking companies, and many construction contractors (just to name a few) have largely relied on Diesel fueled vehicles. If the price of petroleum continues to remain high and involves the social and environmental implications that it does today, I think you will also see an heightened and highly advocated public policy argument to shift power consumption to either hybrids (many of which are manufactured in the U.S) and to fuel cells.
Comedian Bill Maher did an interview on Fresh Air on NPR with Terri Gross in which he spoke about his book "When You Ride Alone, You Ride With Bin Laden" where he talked about the fact that in the 60's President Kennedy made a speech in which he said that his goal, America's goal, was to put a man on the moon in 10 years. Maher said that he believed it was unfortunate that despite the obvious trouble that American dependence on foriegn oil has created, there has been no call by the government to implement a plan to end dependence on oil and on foreign oil within a set amount of time. I agree with Maher both that such a call should be made, but also that it could be successful in the event that it was made. Despite the lack of government leadership on this issue, as a former economics student, my faith is meagerly restored seeing that market forces with a little help in the form of tax deductions may save the day after all...we'll see.