Here’s the theory. See if you agree: Hybrid cars give a boost to fuel economy. They also give the owner the cachet of being a friend of the Earth. Until recently, hybrids allowed access to high-occupancy vehicle lanes at rush hour even when you’re driving solo (in order to jump-start hybrid sales). Most hybrids run silently for a mile or two on battery power; that impressed the neighbors five years ago. But traditional gasoline-engine cars are more efficient than ever, the HOV lane freebie for hybrid cars is going away, and the price premium remains.
There’s also concern that hybrids are costlier to maintain. Never mind that it’s probably not true. To make back the hybrid premium, you may have to drive 100,000 miles. As for cachet, now that some 2.5 million traditional hybrids have been sold in the US since 1999, the exclusivity and wow factors belong to the Leaf, Volt, and their nosebleed counterparts from Tesla and Fisker. Wow factor? Automobile magazine named the electric Tesla S its car of the year.
General Motors says the mainstream hybrid will not be its major focus. Instead, GM “needs to make educated bets on which technologies hold the most potential,” says Mary Barra, senior vice president for global product development. GM’s bets are currently on the ends of the alternative-fuel spectrum: plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.