For a time back in 2008, it looked like hybrid vehicles were going to break through and start grabbing some serious market share. Unfortunately, the combination of the global economic collapse, falling oil prices and the end of some government incentives for these vehicles put the brakes on hybrid momentum. Since then, overall hybrid market share has mostly stagnated but it hasn't been all bad news. While sales of the Honda Civic hybrid have tanked and the Insight has fallen well short of its sales goals, other models have seen sales growth. Ford's Fusion hybrid is selling like gangbusters and Toyota has seen some gains for the Prius and RX450h, despite the company's recall issues.
More importantly, almost every major manufacturer is bringing new hybrid models to market over the next several years starting with the Hyunda Sonata, Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne this year. Volkswagen will also be introducing hybrid variants of the Jetta and Passat replacement and Ford will be expanding its hybrid offerings for 2012 when its next generation system debuts.
One thing most of these new entries share is a switch away from the current complex – and expensive – Toyota/Ford-style power-split systems to more modular systems that cost less and are more readily adaptable to more vehicles. The combination of lower cost and increasing CAFE requirements should see a stronger push for hybrid technology. If oil prices jump again, look for hybrid adoption to really take off.