Heartland without Hybrids

The other day I heard one of those hopeless NPR twerps contend that the Detroit 3 needed a bailout because they didn’t build enough hybrids soon enough. He obviously had missed the recent Washington Post story that pointed out car manufacturers “still haven’t figured out how to produce hybrid and plug-in vehicles cheaply enough to make money on them.”

This morning, NPR is probably decrying Toyota’s decision not to produce the Prius after all at its new $1.3-billion plant near Tupelo, Mississippi. Last November, as gas prices soared, people bought 16,737 Priuses. The factory originally was to produce the Highlander SUV, but Toyota changed plans and said the Prius would be made there. This November, as gas prices plummeted, people bought 8660 Priuses. Toyota will finish the factory, which is 90-percent done, but not put any equipment in it or build any vehicle there for now. A brand-new, empty Toyota factory! That truly astonishes me!

Hybrids claim only a two-percent market share because, with all the extra cost on board the vehicle, they’re too high-priced to be a satisfactory value proposition. Of that small market share, the Prius outsells the next best-seller by more than three to one. As an AutoWeek reader said in a letter to the editor, “Toyota made a hybrid that looked like a sick squash, and it is a hit among the Chicken Little set. Unfortunately, the importance of the hybrid technology is not its efficiency but its ability to act as a grand-scale, moral-preening fashion accessory.”

Politicians and environmentalists won’t accept this. Barrack Obama came to Detroit last winter and lectured the Detroit 3 on the need to build more hybrids. The federal bailout is supposed to help the D3 “transform their companies to produce automobiles of the future, using advanced technologies and featuring hybrid or plug-in vehicles,” according to the Post. What the hell, the government is paying!

The Wall Street Journal road-tested a Cadillac Escalade Hybrid ($72,865) and figured the break-even point on fuel savings comes after 218,600 miles, and that’s if gas averages $3 per gallon.

A couple of weeks ago, one friend whose parents were among the first to buy the Prius—the dwarfish early version, and then the sick-squash contemporary one—asked why I’m such a reactionary when it comes to hybrids. Hey, I’m just repeating the facts (along with a little bit of name calling). And now there’s a million-square-foot emblem of hybrid hopelessness standing empty in Mississippi—proof that I’m not just making it up.

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