DETROIT (AP) — U.S. automakers have staked their future on the idea that electric vehicles will dominate sales in coming years, driven by buyers determined to reduce carbon emissions and save fuel.
But so far, even though electric vehicle sales are growing, their pace is well below the industry’s ambitious schedule to abandon combustion engines. Instead, buyers are increasingly adopting a quarter-century-old technology that is growing in popularity: the gasoline-electric hybrid, which alternates between gasoline and battery power to maximize efficiency.
So far in 2023, Americans have purchased a record number of more than 1 million hybrids, up 76% from the same period last year, according to Edmunds.com. As recently as last year, purchases had fallen below the 2021 total. This year’s figures don’t even include sales of 148,000 plug-in hybrids, which travel a short distance on battery power before a system gas-electric does not come into play.
Although electric vehicle sales are approaching an annual record of more than 1 million this year, their year-over-year growth rate has begun to stagnate. Electric vehicles still only account for about 7% of all U.S. auto sales.
The slowdown has raised concerns among automakers that buyer interest in electric vehicles is waning. Some companies are reducing production and scaling back plans for new battery or assembly plants.
The reasons why hybrids have quickly become the preferred choice for many buyers vary. They range from higher prices for comparable electric vehicles, to concerns about the scarcity of charging stations, to recognition that hybrids offer many of the same benefits without the hassles of electric vehicles.
Ford, the nation’s second-largest seller of hybrids behind Toyota, hopes to produce enough hybrids to quadruple its sales within five years. General Motors, which abandoned most hybrid vehicles in the United States four years ago in favor of electric vehicles, now says it is considering bringing them back.
Meanwhile, surveys show that consumers remain concerned about the availability of charging stations or the sales prices of electric vehicles, even taking into account the tax credits that the federal government provides in many cases for the purchase of electric vehicles.
“Your standard hybrid is the one that makes the most sense for most people,” said Ivan Drury, director of the automotive website Edmunds.com. “I think you’ll find that people don’t want to have to deal with the hassle or difficulty of charging.”
Hybrids emit some exhaust pollution. But since they consume less fuel than cars equipped only with gasoline engines, their emissions are lower. Additionally, purchase prices for hybrid vehicles are similar to gasoline vehicles and generally much lower than comparable electric vehicles.
“People are perfectly fine with a car that goes 45 or 50 miles per gallon, and you don’t have to do anything” different from current behavior, said Scott Adams, owner of a Toyota dealership in suburban Kansas City.
Here are some key reasons why hybrids, which use both a gasoline engine and battery power to efficiently turn the wheels, have taken off this year:
SAVE THE PLANET
The proliferation of More intense wildfires, heat waves and storms drove more people view climate change as a serious crisis, which they can help mitigate by burning less carbon-emitting fuel. Yet even among these people, some remain skeptical that an electric vehicle will allow them to travel long distances or tow trailers.
“People want to be part of this idea of reducing carbon emissions,” said Jack Hollis, head of North American sales and marketing for Toyota, which leads hybrid sales and has only gradually moved into vehicles. electrical. “I think the hybrid gives them what they’re looking for most.”
A LOWER PRICE
Electric vehicle prices are falling, mainly due to federal tax credits and price cuts from market leader Tesla. However, they remain more expensive than hybrid or gasoline vehicles.
After peaking at nearly $63,000 last year, the average selling price of electric vehicles fell to just over $60,500 in November, not including tax credits or pricing from Tesla, which does not not publish them. However, it is likely that fewer electric vehicles benefit from tax credits in 2024 due to rules that will prevent buyers from claiming full credit if they buy cars equipped with battery materials from China or other countries considered hostile to the United States.
The average price of a hybrid has stabilized at around $42,000. A typical hybrid costs a little more than its gasoline counterpart. An all-wheel-drive Toyota RAV4 hybrid, for example, starts at $32,825, or $1,600 more than a comparable gasoline version.
Like many hybrid buyers, Shalinder Singh, an Uber driver from Sunnyvale, Calif., said that for him, the gas savings helped tip the pricing equation in favor of a Honda CR-V 2024 hybrid compared to the corresponding gasoline model.
“The mileage of the hybrid is too good,” said Singh, who frequently travels to San Francisco and San Jose.
The Environmental Protection Agency says a front-wheel-drive hybrid CR-V gets 40 mpg in the city and highway, 10 mpg better than the gas version. The owner of a CR-V hybrid who drives 15,000 miles per year would save $450 per year in fuel compared to the gas model.
Angie Rodesky, who recently moved to Jefferson City, Mo., said her children wanted her to buy a Tesla to replace her old vehicle. Although she considered an electric vehicle to help reduce emissions, she opted for a RAV4 hybrid because she frequently travels to see children in Florida and Delaware.
“I’m worried about plugging something in and not being able to travel that far, because it’s a 16-hour trip from Delaware to Missouri,” Rodesky, 55, said. “I had to make sure I had a vehicle that was comfortable to drive and had good gas mileage.”
After purchasing a 2023 model from Adams Toyota near Kansas City, she had to wait a month for it to arrive, mainly due to high customer demand for the vehicle.
Brad Sowers, owner of Jim Butler Kia and other St. Louis-area dealerships, said customers considering electric vehicles often ask for hybrids or other alternatives.
“They view it as a small step into the world of electric vehicles,” Sowers said. “They’re like, ‘I can’t really do 100% drums psychologically.’ »
Dealers say many hybrid buyers seem to have done their research and know that cold weather reduces the range of an electric vehicle battery. Tests carried out in Norway, where almost 80% of new vehicles are electric, have revealed that electric vehicles lose between 10% and 36% of their range in winter.
Most electric vehicle purchases in the United States take place on the coasts, where charging stations are more widespread and the weather is often warmer. In the Midwest, where stations are further apart, Sowers said consumers are concerned about diminishing winter range.
“It’s cold here,” he said. “The (charging) infrastructure is not great.”
In its Automotive Reliability Survey this year, Consumer Reports found that hybrids are the most reliable type of power system in the industry. Electric vehicles were the least reliable. Electric vehicles contain new technologies that are prone to problems, Consumer Reports said. Hybrids have less.
And because hybrids have been sold in the United States for more than two decades, automakers have had time to refine the engineering and construction of their vehicles. In general, vehicles manufactured over longer periods of time are more reliable, said Jake Fisher, senior director of automotive testing at Consumer Reports.
Analysts still estimate that more electric vehicles than hybrids will ultimately be sold in the United States. With the help of the government, the industry is preparing to build many more charging stations. Ford, GM, Hyundai and others have struck deals allowing owners of their vehicles to charge at many popular Tesla stations. The industry is standardize its sockets to match those of Tesla.
With DC fast chargers, charging times are getting faster and faster. Battery technology will also likely improve range in cold weather.
Additionally, next year, EV tax credits will be counted at the time of sale, thus reducing the price and lowering monthly payments. This year, buyers had to wait for tax returns to receive their money. Additionally, over time, stricter fuel economy and pollution regulations will likely force automakers to sell more electric vehicles.