Car-buyers’ dreams will be empty: Research

But those buyers will enter the market with “unrealistic expectations” about the fuel economy provided by those gas-electric models.

Power surveyed 4,000 people who said they intend to buy a new vehicle in the next two years. More than half (57 percent) said they would consider buying a hybrid, 49 percent said they’d consider a vehicle that burns an E85 ethanol blend and 12 percent said they’d consider a diesel car or truck.

In fact, just 23 percent said that they’d only consider a gasoline vehicle.

Consumers said they would expect to pay $5,250 more for a hybrid than a similar gasoline-only model. The actual premiums automakers charge for hybrids range from $3,000 to $10,000, Power said.

But those same potential buyers said they expect a hybrid to get 28 more miles per gallon than a gasoline-only car. Hybrid owners have told Power their improvement averages about 9 mpg.

The same thinking holds true for diesels, Power’s report said. Potential buyers said they expect a 21 mpg improvement with a diesel engine, while real owners say it’s closer to 12 mpg.

That disconnect is “a real problem,” said Jack Nerad, executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book’s kbb.com Web site. “People expect hybrids to be a miracle cure, but they’re not.”

Mike Marshall, Power’s director of automotive emerging technologies, said managing consumers’ “unrealistic expectations” remains a key challenge for automakers as they introduce more alternative-fuel models.

“There’s so much touting of hybrids and, for that matter, E85, as panaceas for our problem,” Marshall said. “They’re not that. But these alternative-fuel powertrains, with changes in driving habits, can provide a solution.”

Automakers need to make them more affordable, too, if they’re to catch on with more consumers, he said.

As part of its 2006 Alternative Powertrain Study, the researcher released a list of the 30 top environmentally friendly vehicles for 2006, which were ranked based upon fuel-economy numbers as well as air pollution and greenhouse-gas emission data.

Not surprisingly, the list contains eight hybrids, 20 small gasoline-burning cars and two mid-size passenger cars. Power ranked Volkswagen, Honda and Mazda as the top brands on its Automotive Environmental Index, and GMC, Hummer and Land Rover as the worst brands.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group of big automakers, said recently that 9 million alternative-fuel vehicles were on US roads, including 700,000 sold so far this year. A large percentage of those are vehicles that can run on 85 percent ethanol. Industry experts acknowledge that many of these vehicles are filled with gasoline, not ethanol. The group said 46 alternative-fuel vehicles are available now ‘including 14 hybrids, eight diesels, 21 that can run on ethanol, two that burn natural gas and one that’s electric (DaimlerChrysler’s GEM, a neighborhood electric vehicle). ‘ mercurynews.com.

September 2006
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