In the first few years after Honda and Toyota introduced the Insight and Prius to the market, the price premium and limited utility of the vehicles meant they appealed mostly the most environmentally conscious drivers. As more manufacturers introduce hybrid vehicles of all shapes and sizes, the technology is rapidly becoming mainstream. That means the hybrid vehicles have to appeal to buyers on the same merits as any other vehicle. They'll have to compete on price, mileage and other features, especially as tax credits expire on many of the models (they already have on the Prius).

So far in 2007, the Prius, Camry hybrid and Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner hybrids have all had sales increases. On the other end of the scale high-end hybrids from the Lexus and the now-discontinued Honda Accord hybrid haven't fared so well. These more expensive models haven't held the same appeal, perhaps because buyers of such vehicles aren't as concerned about mileage and the lack of visual differentiation doesn't set them apart the way a Prius does. It remains to be seen how the new LS600h hybrid holds up after strong initial sales. The new hybrid SUVs from GM are visually different from their conventional counterparts and the dramatic increase in fuel economy should attract some of the larger families that have a need for such a vehicle.

[Source: Automotive News - Sub. req'd]

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