By John Addison (11/22/11)
Here at the LA Auto Show, car buyers are paying a lot of attention to midsized and compact sedans and crossover SUVs. Buyers want passenger and cargo room, versatility, and safety. They want the latest electronics for safe navigation, entertainment, and always-on internet connection. On the practical side, many car buyers want a car that will meet all their needs for years and a car that can save hundreds and eventually thousands of dollars at the gas station.
Toyota Leads with Prius Family
For years, Toyota Motor Corporation has dominated with car buyers that want “all of the above,” first with its classic Prius, and now with over a dozen hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars.
Toyota General Manager Bob Carter stated, “Prius has the highest brand awareness of any hybrid, literally defining what a ‘hybrid vehicle is,’ with one out of every two hybrids sold in the U.S. being a Prius. Since it first went on sale, more than two million have been sold worldwide, including more than 1 million here in the U.S. And one of the things I’m most proud of, and an area some early skeptics questioned, is that in the U.S., 97-percent of all Prius sold are still on the road today.”
Here at the Auto Show three different Prius models and on display. By summer, you will have four choices in the Prius family (officially called “Prii”):
- Prius Liftback – Midsized interior, 50 mpg, hybrid bestseller for 12 years
- Prius V – Crossover SUV, 42 mpg
- Prius C – smaller hatchback, best hybrid mpg, priced Summer 2012
- Prius Plug-in Hybrid – Midsized interior, 87 mpg, 15-mile electric range
The Prius V is an exciting offering from Toyota that is causing many car buyers to turn their attention away from traditional SUVs like the Ford Escape. The Prius V stretched and expanded the classic Prius into a compact SUV with expanded room for 5 people, great cargo space and flexibility, and mileage that no other SUV can touch.
Ford is challenging the new Prius V with the Ford C-MAX Hybrid, another beautiful crossover SUV 5-door, 5-passenger compact crossover SUV. Mileage has yet to be announced, but Ford is using a lithium battery pack and Toyota is sticking with its proven NiMH batteries in all hybrids except the Prius Plug-in. Stay tuned to see if the Ford C-MAZ Hybrid beats the Prius V in fuel economy.
2012 is the last year for the Ford Escape Hybrid. In 2013, Ford SUV lovers who care about mileage will choose between Ford Escapes with efficient 1.6L and bigger Eco-Boost engines and the new C-Max Hybrid.
The automakers will come up with fancy new category brands for these crossover hybrids with words like “active” and “multi-function.” Call them what you want, the point is that active families and busy professionals will value the room for 5 people and the flexibility to drop one or both back seats and fill the back with sports equipment, everything that work demands, or luggage and goodies for a long-weekend escape.
Ford Fusion Hybrid versus Toyota Camry Hybrid
A couple of years ago, Ford announced a new mid-sized sedan with 8 miles better city mileage than the Toyota Camry Hybrid. Toyota executives were stunned with the market share attack on their best selling Camry. The Ford Fusion Hybrid was beautifully appointed inside, delivered a midsized sedan breakthrough of 39 mpg (EPA combined city/highway), and did not look like that “funny looking” Prius. Mainstream America finally had a car from Detroit that didn’t require new oil wells in the Mideast or new tar-sand strip mining in Alberta.
The Fusion Hybrid’s great mileage, EV range, and quiet ride upsets Toyota who strikes back with the 2012 Camry Hybrid which matches the elegance, room, and quiet ride of the Fusion Hybrid and beats it with 41 mpg.
In model year 2011, Ford was the midsized sedan mileage champion. In 2012, Toyota is the winner. In 2013, Ford will switch to lithium batteries in the Fusion hybrid and try to beat Toyota. These sedans keep getting better and using less gasoline.
The classic lines of the sedan appeal to many, but you cannot lower the backseats of these hybrid sedans. Cargo flexibility, sporty handling, and best mileage make the Prius and C-MAX Hybrids appealing to active families and professionals.
Luxury Features in Premium Hybrid Sedans
Lexus is the premium brand of Toyota Motor Corporation and Lincoln the premium brand of Ford Motor Corporation. Lexus now offers six different hybrid cars including the sport compact Lexus CT200h that delivers 42 mpg and the Lexus RX450h SUV with FWD and AWD mileage that Lincoln cannot touch.
The Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, however, is a luxurious midsized sedan that delivers 39 mpg combined. Lexus does not come close to that fuel economy in a midsized sedan. The 2013 Lincoln MKZ may do better than 40 mpg with a new lithium battery.
Ford May Overtake Toyota with Plug-in Hybrids
The success of the Chevrolet Volt is not lost on Ford or Toyota. Volt owners are delighted with rarely adding gasoline to their extended range electric vehicles. Various plug-in hybrid cars now allow you to drive the first 15 to 50 miles on an electric charge before a small engine is engaged making the car drive like an efficient hybrid.
The new Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid looks and drives like the Prius Liftback, except that the first 15 miles are in electric mode. The new Ford C-MAX Energi will offer more room inside its 5-door, 5-passenger, crossover and get at least 30 miles in electric mode before running like a fuel-sipping hybrid.
According to a Ford insider, the plug-in hybrid battle will soon extend to the popular midsized sedans. At the January Detroit Auto Show, two new concept cars will be announced: the Ford Fusion Plug-in Hybrid and the Toyota Camry Plug-in Hybrid. Since both are popular hybrid cars that can stay in EV mode for brief stretches, it makes sense to add electric charge ports, lithium batteries, and give them electric ranges of 15 to 30 miles. Expect exciting news in the next 60 days, as the market share battle for plug-in hybrid leadership gets hotter.
And the Winner is…
The hybrid market share battle between Toyota and Ford has lead to a growing choice of excellent cars for their customers. Diverse needs are met with versatile hatchbacks for active families and professionals, luxurious classic sedans, crossover SUVs and smaller cars with sports handling and performance.
In the hybrid hatchback arena, Toyota will continue to dominate with a family of four Prii and more for the future. The Ford C-MAX Hybrid is a viable challenger to the Prius V. For the moment, Toyota has the midsized sedan hybrid market leadership with the Camry Hybrid, but Ford is taking market share. In electric cars and plug-in hybrids, however, Ford is moving more aggressively than Toyota. Ford is more innovative with lithium batteries and electric drive systems. Electric car leadership at the end of the decade is up for grabs between Ford, Toyota, and also Nissan, General Motors, and several others.
The continued mileage improvement has lowered the lifetime operating costs for the owners of these hybrids. Most of these hybrid cars meet U.S. 2016 CAFÉ standards; some even exceed 2025 CAFÉ standards. The improved mileage has enabled the automakers to compete not just in the USA, but also globally. The competition remains intense and the car buyers are the ultimate winners.