Ford's chief sales analyst says the future of hybrids is "bright" but the main challenge remains: "What price are consumers willing to pay for technology?"

He said that even if gas hit $4 to $5 per gallon, the payback for some hybrids doesn't come for five or six years. To continue growing market share, hybrids must be purchased for financial reasons as well as altruistic ones.

Pipas is the manager of sales analysis at Ford and spoke Tuesday afternoon at the regular meeting of the Motor Press Guild, an organization of automotive writers on the West Coast. Although the topic of his presentation was the changing SUV market, he did share a few thoughts on hybrids with AutoblogGreen.

Pipas admits incentives on gas vehicles do not play a supporting role in promoting hybrids. He gave the example of the Ford Escape Hybrid that was introduced at a cost of $3,000 over the gas model. But when Ford offered zero-percent financing and other incentives to the gas versions, the cost difference was "too great to pass up" for many consumers.

For those who denounce large SUVs, Pipas offered encouraging words. He said the sales volume of smaller, more fuel-efficient crossover utility vehicles has surpassed the numbers of traditional body-on-frame SUVs. The traditional market is still significant and there will be increased competition for market share between Ford and GM. But even with heavy incentives the fullsize SUV market will never return to its glory days because of changing demographics and more choices in CUVs. He said by the end of the decade there will be 70 different CUV models on the market. Considering there was only one just 10 years ago, this growing popularity means that the CUV will be the most dominant segment in the industry by the end of the decade.

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