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Lower gas prices torpedo US hybrid sales


Americans are voting with their feet and staying with petrol vehicles as pump prices tumble.

American consumers are turning away from buying hybrid vehicles as petrol prices drop by more than a third.

US hybrid sales dropped dramatically as the price at the pump fell from above $US4 a gallon (4.5 litres) to an average $US1.60.

And that has led to buyers switching back to traditional vehicles rather than hybrids which typically are $US3000-5000 dearer than petrol equivalents.

Increasing numbers of consumers are finding it unattractive economically to pay that premium for better fuel economy.

One analyst has suggested that with petrol at $1.60 a gallon it would take a Prius owner eight years to recoup the price premium, compared with the three-and-a-half years it would have taken if prices had remained above $US4 a gallon.

Toyota’s Prius hybrid sales fell 50 percent in November, prompting the Japanese company to shelve plans to commission a new factory in Alabama to build the next-generation model of the petrol/electric car.

Ford and Honda hybrid sales are also down, Ford’s Escape posting a 37 percent drop in a November market that saw hybrid sales fall more than 50 percent.

The trend away from hybrids is worrying for an industry which has committed itself to an alternative fuel future, a shift which was virtually demanded by legislators who approved the $US14 billion bailout for Chrysler and General Motors.

Some environmental and motor industry sources have suggested the only way to move Americans towards alternative fuels may be taxes on petrol.

However, some American buyers do seem to be taking an interest in fuel efficient cars. Small car sales are running at 18.7 percent, a two percent rise on a year ago.

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