Hybrid Vehicle Technology and Trends

Hybrid options are broadening in more vehicle classes and styles


If your fleet operates in an urban or semi-urban area, hybrid cars are a no-regrets option. Hybrids are not only better for the environment, they are better for the bottom line of a fleet. This is no longer a topic of debate. This is a statement based on over a decade of good operating data.

Our organization, CALSTART – a non-profit organization focused on energy security, clean air and economic development by spurring the growth of clean transportation technology – works with all of the different clean fuels and technologies across the nation. We particularly believe fleets play a critical role in helping to expand the market for clean, low-carbon vehicles. We also know that fleets need help to place the right technology and fuel in the right application to achieve this success.

It is important to be accurate and to not over-sell any fuel or technology. To this end, CALSTART can provide fleets with help to find those “right” fits and roll out deployment plans that work. Some of this help can come from tools to assess cost of ownership, such as our E-Truck Business Case Calculator that illustrates the operational savings and real costs associated with this technology. More such tools are coming.

CALSTART also shares project field data that fleet members can tap to understand the effectiveness of different technologies. CALSTART is hosting a four-session fleet sustainability track at the NAFA Fleet Management Association I&E Conference in Atlantic City, NJ, April 24 to 26, to outline many of those issues.

Finally, CALSTART can provide custom assistance to individual fleets to help them structure a clean vehicle deployment plan that really works for them.

EXPANDED PRODUCT OFFERINGS

Since the first sales 13 years ago, the quality of hybrid technology has improved, and the number of product offerings has also grown. Among all cars, the Toyota Prius is an outstanding commercial and environmental success story. Worldwide, the Prius is now the fifth best-selling car in the world.

This is not only a positive statement for Toyota, but really a promising signal for the entire segment.

Nationally, in 2012, approximately 425,000 hybrid cars were sold in the United States. That represented about 3 percent of total light duty vehicles sales in the U.S.

SIGNIFICANT GROWTH

Expect that number to grow significantly over the next decade for four main reasons. First, consumers and fleet managers are becoming more familiar with and developing positive attitudes toward hybrid vehicles. Second, the car companies are going to be working hard to meet the 2025 federal fuel economy standard of 54.5 miles per gallon and hybrid technology will be one of their leading strategies.

It would not surprise me if all new cars sold in the U.S. by 2020 used stop/start technology and would therefore be considered “mild hybrids.”

The third factor is an outgrowth of the first. We will be seeing more hybrid options in more vehicle classes and styles, and there will simply be more and more choices and options for consumers and fleets.

The Ford C-Max Hybrid and the two new members of the Prius family – the C and V models – are good examples of this trend.

The fourth reason why the hybrid sector will grow significantly, and one that should be particularly relevant for fleets, is the very favorable economics of hybrid technology.

OPERATING COSTS

For the most part, the purchase price of a hybrid is more expensive than its conventional gasoline counterpart. However, with the data we have now on operating costs, it is clear that with gasoline at $3.50/gallon, a hybrid vehicle offers better value, particularly for fleets operating in urban and/or suburban areas.

On fuel savings alone, if driven more than 50,000 miles, there is usually a three-year payback on hybrid cars. However, we now know there are other significant economic benefits of hybrid passenger cars.

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