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The Present and Future of Hybrid Vehicles: Sports Utility Vehicles and Trucks

April 28, 2010
Hybrid Synergy Drive
Image via Wikipedia

Copyright (c) 2008-2010 Butch Taft

Most broadcast and cable news networks have highlighted the rise
in gas prices over the last year, almost on a daily basis. These
stories feature interviewers, average citizens, and elected
officials looking for scapegoats that can absorb the blame for
high prices at the pump. Invariably, they make mention of
gas-guzzling trucks and sports utility vehicles (SUVs), as well
as speculators, greedy oil companies, and gas taxes, as the prime
movers for fuel costs.

As Dodge begins to offer 0% financing on new Dodge Trucks, Ford
and Toyota suspend production on many of their pickup truck
models, and Chevrolet starts closing truck and SUV factories, it
would appear that the final nail has been put into the pickup
truck and sports utility vehicle industry in the United States.

But the truth is that four-dollar plus gasoline has only hastened
the demise of older designs, and the auto makers are rushing to
accelerate their transition to the hybrid vehicles that were
expected to be released in the 2010-2011 model years.
Surprisingly, many of the most fuel-efficient vehicles available
today and those due to the marketplace in the next couple years
are actually pickups, SUV’s, and crossover vehicles.

It is important for consumers to understand that automotive
manufacturers are quickly moving toward hybrid versions of many
cars, trucks, and SUV’s, as fuel costs head toward $5 per gallon.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE)
published a report earlier this year highlighting the most
fuel-efficient cars on the market. Most consumers would not be
shocked to see that the top six vehicles on the list were coupes
and sedans. ACEEE ( praises vehicles like the
Honda Civic GX, Toyota Yaris and Smart ForTwo for their
lightweight construction and innovative drive trains. The problem
with the ACEEE list is that it does not use emissions and fuel
efficiency as primary criteria.

There are plenty of trucks and SUVs on the market today that cut
fuel costs over comparable vehicles of past generations. The
great news is that many of the most fuel-efficient hybrid
vehicles on the road today are not just cars, but they are also
trucks and SUV’s. In fact, according to the
website, 14 of the 21 highest gas-mileage hybrid vehicles for the
2008 model year are pickup trucks, SUVs and crossovers

Ford Motor Company has unveiled hybrid versions of its popular
Escape SUV that improve gas mileage over previous versions of the
vehicle. The front-wheel drive version of the Escape SUV gets 34
miles per gallon (MPG) city and 30 MPG on the highway due to
hybrid technology. Ford produces a four-wheel drive version that
gets 29 MPG during city driving and 27 MPG on the freeway. These
vehicles use nickle metal hydride batteries and continually
variable transmissions to cut fuel usage over past Escape models.

Mazda’s Tribute SUV is available in two and four-wheel drive for
consumers that want to lengthen periods between visits to the
pump. The former version of the Tribute hybrid gets 34 MPG in the
city and 30 MPG during freeway trips, while the four-wheel drive
gets 29/27 MPG. Mazda’s hybrid-electric vehicle can travel up to
25 miles without the use of gasoline before reverting to
traditional combustion power.

The sleek design and clever marketing used by Mercury can obscure
the benefits of its Mariner hybrid SUV. Mercury’s connection to
Ford Motor Company means that the Mariner hybrid is nearly
identical to the Escape hybrid in terms of fuel efficiency. The
Mariner’s hybrid-electric system allows drivers to switch between
gasoline, electricity and a combination of both power sources
based on driving patterns. Drivers concerned about horsepower
should know that the Mariner hybrid has 155hp capacity that is
just slightly lower than the traditional Mariner model.

Most drivers recognize Toyota for its hybrid Prius, as well as
fuel-efficient vehicles like the Yaris and Corolla. These drivers
may not realize that Toyota also produces a hybrid version of the
Highlander SUV, one that is a vast improvement over the
automaker’s past offerings. The Highlander hybrid gets 27/25 MPG
using the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive that switches to
electricity at low speeds. These gas mileage figures may differ
greatly from the Toyota Prius and Yaris, but they are significant
advancements in the SUV market.

Lexus with its 2009 RX400h is cornering the luxury hybrid SUV
market. Drivers may not be impressed by the two-wheel drive’s
27/24-MPG ratings, according to, but Lexus
has not been a big player in the growing hybrid market. Lexus
unveiled the world’s first hybrid luxury SUV in 2004 and have
maintained the brand’s power while increasing its fuel
efficiency. The Lexus Hybrid Drive allows drivers to reach
freeway speed in a matter of seconds, without burning through
fuel quickly to do it.

Drivers should look ahead to the future, when they search for
fuel-efficient trucks and SUVs. Companies like Nissan and Toyota
are promoting fuel efficiency in attractive packages with
upcoming vehicle lines. A peek into the future should help every
driver concerned about monthly fuel costs see the silver lining
around the dark cloud, currently floating over the auto industry.

Nissan’s Denki Cube SUV looks similar to a Scion xB or Honda
Element, but offers a glimpse into the future of fuel-efficient
vehicles. Nissan is creating a hybrid-electric version of the
Denki Cube for the North American market in the 2010 model year.
This product roll out will be followed by electric-only versions
of the Denki Cube by 2015 throughout the world. The Denki Cube
uses a lithium-ion battery and a hybrid drive train to bump gas
mileage above 45 miles per gallon.

Toyota is forging a new direction for fuel-efficient trucks and
SUVs as well, with its FCHV-adv prototype. This vehicle will be
available in Japan within the next few months, after the federal
government approved the FCHV-adv for road use. This SUV adds
hydrogen tanks and regenerative brakes to the company’s
Highlander frame to ensure higher fuel efficiency. Toyota places
the fuel mileage per filling of hydrogen between 348 and 472
miles with one test showing that the FCHV-adv may be able to
reach a range of 516 miles with further development. The FCHV-adv
uses low-energy electrical systems that reduce power to radios,
air conditioning and wipers.

Several factors will dictate whether drivers can realize the
promise of vehicles like the Denki Cube and FCHV-adv. State and
federal incentives for hybrid vehicles will become more common,
as auto manufacturers prove their hybrid vehicles are ready for
the road. Consumers can opt for fuel-efficient trucks and SUVs
already on the market, instead of gas-guzzling vehicles we are
used to buying, to push producers toward more, cleaner vehicles.
The average consumer can show support for hybrid trucks and SUVS
by writing letters to their representatives, investing in
vehicles currently on the market, and showing interest in
prototypes at car shows.

As our elected leaders continue to wrestle with whom they can
blame for high fuel prices, we consumers have a solution for
reducing our own fuel consumption, right in front of us. The next
time we buy a vehicle, we need to buy hybrid. The selection is
wide and varied, and the hybrid vehicles available to us now
offer real promise for enabling us to take a solid bite out of
our overall fuel costs, without giving up luxury and other
features, including the all-important legroom and acceleration

About The Author:
It is not always necessary to change auto insurance companies to
save money on car insurance. Getting a better price elsewhere
often encourages insurance agents to offer additional discounts
to existing customers. For Oklahoma drivers, the website can help them with the
auto insurance quotes research process. For consumers in other
states, try
Butch Taft writes about automotive topics.

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