2009 and 2010 Hybrid Cars ~ Hybrid Car Review
Hybrid Car Review: 2009 and 2010 Hybrid Cars

Friday, May 01, 2009

2009 and 2010 Hybrid Cars

In 2009, there are several different types of hybrid cars on the road from many different car makers. It's amazing what a difference 10 years can make.   The list of hybrid cars has grown trememdously over the past few years. 

The major car makers who build and sell hybrid vehicles today are Toyota, Honda, Ford, GM and Nissan. Chrysler had two hybrid cars on the road last year (Tahoe and Yukon), but quickly retired them.

There have been some exciting changes in the hybrid car market in the past year. Just keep in mind that if fuel efficiency is your thing, although hybrids may top the most fuel efficient cars of 2009,  but that doesn't mean that all hybrids are built for fuel effiicency.

What's New For 2009 in the Hybrid Car Market
The 2010 Toyota Prius which is being released in May 2009 is undergoing a major change. The latest generation in the number one selling hybrid has seem some remarkable improvements inside and out, but just a minor uptick in fuel efficiency. But that keeps the Prius at the top of the hybrid market, although Honda has decided to challenge that supremacy with the Insight.

The 2010 Honda Insight (new) in 2009 is very much unlike the Honda Insight (retired) from ten years ago. The original Insight was a fuel efficiency king, but with just two-seats, the low-production original was never very practical and never really took off. The new Insight is a four-seater with more space and more fun. At 40 mpg combined, it's also one of the most fuel efficient cars on the road, while also being the cheapest hybrid to buy. Although, don't be fooled by the adds you see. This car is still expensive at just under $20,000. It's just cheap by hybrid car standards.

The new Honda Insight  is the only car out there with a reasonable expectation to challenge the Toyota Prius supremacy.  With the right price tag and very good fuel efficiency ratings from the EPA, the Insight is set to make a fight of it.  But even though Toyota has been fighting back with price-cuts on the new Prius, don't expect the king to give up it's throne anytime soon.

Other new models in 2009
The 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid and Mercury Milan Hybrid are all new and even better than you might expect. Ford may not have the cache of Toyota and Honda when it comes to fuel efficiency or hybrid technology, but they are truly right there with them. They've just taken a more conservative approach to hybrids. Instead of building a dedicated hybrid like the Prius or Insight, Ford has once again used their hybrid technology to expand on an already successful vehicle. In this case, the hybrid option on the Ford Fusion beats the Toyota Camry Hybrid city mpg by 8 mpg.

GM is releasing the Sierra and Silverado Hybrids, the first full dual mode hybrid trucks to hit the road.  Like the other dual-mode hybrids, you can expect a 25% fuel economy jump with the hybrid engine, but you should also expect a big price tag to come with it.  GM, like the other car companies, packages their American hybrid line-up with lots of other goodies to soften the blow, so don't go into the dealership expecting these hybrid trucks to look like your father's bare-bones pick-up.

Mercedes is bringing the 'most economical luxury car with a gasoline engine' to light with the S400 Hybrid in August/September.  A mild hybrid with a lithium-ion battery pack, the Mercedes Hybrid is full of confilicting ideals.  Luxury vs fuel economy and an all new very powerful battery pack that most other hybrid car makers have been working at for years to bring to market.  But at 29 mpg, you might not care about the new type of battery that's helping to bring it about.

Saturn Hybrids are a mystery at this point.  GM has said they are going to stop building Saturn vehicles, so the dual-mode Vue and plug-in Vue due out this year are indefinitely on hold

But in the meantime, GM is bringing a GMC Yukon Denali Hybrid to dealerships in the next month or so. After seeing the success of the Escalade Hybrid (30% of new Escalade buyers are opting for the hybrid), GM had to improve their luxury Yukon by dropping in a hybrid engine.  Like the Escalade Hybrid, you should expect luxury on top of luxury, but don't short change the fuel efficiency.  A 25% improvement in a gas hog like the Yukon is nothing to turn your nose up at.  Although if you can afford to think about the Yukon Denali, you may be turning your nose up anyways  ;-)

Lexus is bringing their all new dedicated hybrid model, the 2010 HS 250h to showrooms in 2010.  Toyota believes that 60% of all entry-luxury car buyers would opt for a hybrid if it was available.  And with the HS 250h, which is based on the Prius, Toyota/Lexus wants to give them that option.  Lexus says the HS 250h has a coefficient drag of only 0.27 and should get 30% better than any other Lexus mpg when it gets its rating.  If you wanted to buy a Prius for its fuel efficiency and its green credentials, but wanted it to be even more luxurious than it is, then this will be the hybrid for you.

What's Old and New for Hybrid Cars in 2009
Unlike the hybrid vehicles listed above, these hybrid cars aren't quite new, but don't expect them to be missing that new car smell.  Most of these models are still very young, indeed.   These following models have seen a bit of an upgrade in 2009.

The 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid saw a few minor improvements in 2009.  Still there and still going strong, but never quite taking off in sales.  The Civic Hybrid is not quite as fuel efficient as the Prius, not quite as roomy, but it's still a good option for the price.  The Civic Hybrid has some new options, but mostly you know what you're getting when you buy a Honda Civic.

The 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid and Mercury Mariner Hybrid may be overshadowed by the newer hybrids in the Ford line-up.  But they are still the most fuel efficient SUVs on the road, and in 2009, have a little more power to speak about, too.  The hybrid system has seen quite an improvement over the older generation, probably due to the process of creating the Ford Fusion Hybrid. 

The 2009 Chevy Malibu Hybrid is a mild hybrid, with the BAS system from GM.  You can expect start-stop technology, a slight increase in fuel economy, and all the basics you would expect from the Malibu.  Chevy has been proud of their Malibu so far, just don't expect too much from their hybrid option.  The 2009 Malibu Hybrid was introduced in 2008 with a 2009 Model Year (MY).

Other Hybrid Cars for 2009
At the end of 2006, there were 10 hybrid models on the road from the major automakers.  Now there are 14 more when we include the mild hybrids from GM.  Modern hybrids are still a young technology, but the options have been quickly expanding over the past few years.

The Toyota Highlander Hybrid  is still one of the best selling hybrids out there.  The Toyota Camry Hybrid is the car everyone else wants to compare themselves to when they don't want to compare themselves agains the Prius.  Built by Toyota, you know these two hybrids are going to be well built and well appointed.  They may not get the Prius reputation, but they're still more fuel efficient than their gas-only models.

Toyota also has the GS 450h, RX 400h and LS 600h l. These luxury hybrids tend to focus on performance and luxury, rather than fuel economy.  But they are still full hybrids.  You just get more power and performance for less engine.

The Nissan Altima Hybrid is still out there, but with Nissan taking a very conservative approach to hybrids, the Altima can be hard to find.  Limited to eight states in sales, the Altima Hybrid is built using the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive.  Which means you can buy the Toyota Camry Hybrid or the Nissan Altima Hybrid and know that you're getting the same thing even if the packaging is different.  Nissan is going to come to market with their own hybrid technology, but it's going to be an Infiniti.

GM is losing their mild hybrid Vue and Aura as they close out Saturn. 

The Escalade Hybrid is still big, still luxurious, and still more fuel efficient.  This may be the best hybrid option from GM, since the buyers of the Escalade aren't going to balk at paying $3-$10K more for the hybrid engine.  It just means they get to 'eat their cake, too.'

GM also has the Yukon and Tahoe Hybrids.  Sales haven't taken off for these hybrid SUVs, but then again, this has been a tough year on SUVs in that price range, and GM for that matter.  It's hard to tell if these hybrid SUVs will find their niche or not.

What About 2010?
2009 is going to be the year of the Insight and Prius.  But 2010 is going to be about plugging your car in.  The Chevy Volt and various competitors are going to be there and be loud as they can about it.  The first to market may not be the one to last (see the original Insight).  But the first to market is certainly going to get credit for it.  And that may be the biggest thing right now given the political climate. 

Unfortunately for the rest of us, you should also expect plug-ins to remain out of reach for quite some time.  In order to get 40 miles or more of range on all electric power, the battery packs in these upcoming cars are going to be huge.  Which means they are going to be very expensive cars to buy.

What about Fisker/Tesla?
There are some other hybrids out there today, but they are from smaller car makers.  The Fisker Karma, for instance, like the Tesla Model S, has made quite a splash over the past year.  But the number of cars made and sold by these automakers is just going to continue to be small (and expensive!) for the foreseeable future. 

Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover, Hyundai, etc... are certainly big enough to make a difference.  They just haven't yet.  The price to enter the hybrid market is still high.  Expect more hybrid cars from these auto makers in the coming years, even if they don't make a lot of them.  Same from the Chinese car makers who are trying hard to break in to the hybrid market.

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