Senior researchers from automakers around the world agree that internal combustion engines will dominate the automotive market for decades to come, even though hydrogen fuel cells are becoming an attractive replacement technology.

Volkswagen's Wolfgang Steiger predicted that fuel cell cars will not reach 1 percent of new car sales before 2030, growing to a 50 percent market share 20 years later. A DaimlerChrysler researcher was slightly more optimistic, forecasting a single-digit share of the new-car market as early as 2020. Ford Motor's Gerhard Schmidt swung the other way, saying a 50 percent market share by 2050 seemed optimistic.

Filling the gap? Hybrids. Toyota expects its hybrid sales to blow through the 1 million units a year milestone early next decade, with auto parts supplier Bosch forecasting hybrid sales of 2.4 million units a year by 2015.

Meanwhile, dramatic improvement in the efficiency of gasoline engines, together with the development of clean diesels, is giving the internal combustion engine a new lease on life.

With U.S. automakers well behind the power curve of hybrid technology development and product rollout (Ford's hybrids notwithstanding), basing their strategies on an ethanol-based transition to a hydrogen future could leave them on the outside looking in, provided hybrids gain the hearts and minds of car buyers in the next decade.

[Source: Reuters]