Hybrids: 2009 and Beyond

By Insurance.com Posted : 09/25/2008

With ever-increasing gas prices, the release of the 2009 hybrid car models has been greatly anticipated. Even though 2009 was supposed to be a banner year for hybrids, not everything carmakers envisioned has arrived. However, there are some exciting new cars, with much better and more promising advances just around the corner.


What's New
There aren't many new models for 2009. However, some of the more anticipated models are the Saturn Vue Green Line and the Cadillac Escalade. The new Saturn hybrid model is a true hybrid, and may get almost double the gas mileage of the old model. The Escalade is a true hybrid as well, and can achieve almost double the fuel efficiency of the standard version. Some may disagree with the notion of a hybrid SUV, but for those who already planned to purchase an SUV, it certainly makes sense.

What's Not
Toyota and Honda continue their hybrid domination with updated models for 2009, although there are no major improvements for now. Some companies are calling their new models hybrids, but be aware of so-called "mild hybrids" that really don't offer much benefit and merely use the hybrid name to gain a "green" image. For example, the 2009 Chevrolet Malibu only provides a 2-miles-per-gallon increase in fuel-efficiency. The reason is that some of these cars only use technology tweaks to increase fuel mileage, such as shutting off the engine during idling, rather than more robust features, like large batteries and regenerative braking. Also, be aware of "power hybrids" that sacrifice fuel-efficiency by using hybrid technology mainly to boost power.

What's Next
The really exciting developments are coming at the end of 2009 and the end of 2010. Honda is targeting mid-2009 to release the Honda Insight hybrid, which may be priced lower than the Toyota Prius, in part because it will be smaller. As its hybrid competition intensifies, Toyota is currently conducting fleet tests of a plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle (PHEV) version of the Prius. Most auto industry experts expect a retail version to deploy in late 2009 for commercial fleets and 2010 or later for consumers.

The Shape of Things to Come
Of course, the car that really has everyone talking is the Chevy Volt. Official pictures of what GM says is the final design were unveiled recently, and although they don't look as flashy as the concept car displayed at the Detroit Auto Show last year, they haven't dampened most people's enthusiasm for its planned release in late 2010.

With the ability to travel 40 miles by charging its batteries from a standard household outlet, the Volt represents the first serious technological competitor for the Toyota Prius. Whereas a Prius uses a gas engine to supplement its electric motors when it reaches a certain speed, the Volt only uses gas after it has reached its 40-mile battery-only limit. After that, it will use the gas engine to generate electrical power to run the motors. This means that most people will only have to use gas for long trips. On shorter commutes, such as to work or the grocery store, the gas engine will never run, allowing drivers to save money by using electricity only.

Hybrids of the Future
It remains to be seen whether Toyota or another company can develop and manufacture a vehicle capable of competing with the Volt. Currently, Toyota projects the plug-in Prius will have a range of 10 miles before the gas engine kicks in, meaning that most people will still be relying upon gas for much of their driving. For its part, Honda is focusing on fuel cell vehicles rather than plug-in technology. Because fuel cell vehicles require technology that's around 4 or 5 years from mass-production, Honda may not offer serious competition to plug-in hybrids.

Hybrid Discounts
Remember, no matter what type of hybrid you drive, there are potential benefits beyond just saving gas. Some car insurance companies, such as Travelers Insurance and Farmers Insurance, offer hybrid car insurance discounts. However, rates vary based on many factors, so consider comparing car insurance quotes. For a quick look back at hybrids and car insurance in the past, read Insurance.com's articles from 2005 and 2006.

If you have any questions or comments, please let us know.

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