This was the week of hybrid technology, at the Frankfurt International Motor Show, with a skein of announcements by leading German carmakers that they would follow Toyota's lead in developing these dual gasoline-electric engines.
But backstage at the Frankfurt International Motor Show, a different picture is emerging: Europe's auto executives remain privately skeptical, even dismissive, about the merits of hybrid technology.
A spate of press releases may be no more than that a public relations response to what many in the European auto industry say has been the Japanese industry's shrewd promotion of a so-so technology.
"This was a marketing battle between Europe and Japan, and diesel engines were Europe's proposal," the chairman of Porsche, Wendelin Wiedeking, said in an interview Tuesday. "We must accept that we lost."
Adding to the pressure, some Europeans said, is the sharp rise in oil prices, which has cast a shadow over this gathering and renewed the focus on a search for alternatives to fossil fuels, reports CNET News.com.
"I think what happened was the manifest success of the Prius caused a rethink on everybody’s part," Lutz said. GM plans to debut a hybrid system on the Tahoe and Yukon trucks in 2007.
Companies are developing different kinds of hybrids. But generally, a hybrid vehicle is powered either by an electric motor or by the combustion engine, or the systems can be used simultaneously.
Hybrid engines have been touted as a way to make automobiles more fuel efficient, but at a cost. Current hybrids tend to cost between $4,000 and $9,000 more than counterparts with regular engines under the hood, a premium that carmakers hope to reduce through the partnerships. The fuel savings vary depending on how the vehicle is driven. The Prius gets up to 60 miles per gallon in the city and 51 mpg on the highway, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Despite the success of the Prius and other hybrid models from Honda Motor Co. and Ford Motor Co., hybrids still represent less than 1 percent of the U.S. market. Some analysts have said that could grow to as much as 35 percent by 2015, although others have been more conservative.
Hybrids have made even less of a dent in Europe. GM Europe Chairman Fritz Henderson said they account for far less than 1 percent of the market. Toyota’s European vice president of marketing, Ludo Vandervelden, said the company will sell around 10,000 Prius cars in Europe this year and 4,500 hybrid versions of the Lexus RX 400h utility vehicle, informs Mail Tribune.