Electric vehicles, such as the Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf, may indeed be the future of automotive transportation, but hybrid vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius and Chevy Volt, may be the stepping-stone that consumers and manufacturers need to make it to a pure-electric future.
Pure electric vehicles, of course, have limited emissions, limited to that generated during power generation. Given that emissions regulations are becoming more strict every year, reducing emissions is a great idea. On the other hand, electric vehicle technology is fairly expensive in comparison to conventional vehicles. That being said, electric vehicles have seen somewhat limited success in comparison to hybrid vehicles.
Hybrid vehicles do employ some basic electric vehicle technology, including rechargeable batteries, of the nickel-metal hydride or lithium-ion type, and electric motors, but they are still basically conventional vehicles, requiring some type of fossil fuel to run. Because their electric vehicle systems are limited, hybrid vehicles are typically just a couple thousand dollars more expensive than their conventional counterparts, instead of $10,000 or more for a pure electric vehicle.
This expense differential plays havoc with manufacturers’ bottom lines, some of them losing thousands of dollars on each electric vehicle they sell, just to get them out the door. Could hybrid vehicles be the stepping-stone to a pure electric vehicle future, for manufacturers and consumers? According to Toyota Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada, it won’t be simply a stepping-stone, saying, “Some people say hybrid vehicles, such as the Prius, are only a bridge to the future, but we think it could be a long bridge, and a very study one. There are many more gains we can achieve with hybrids.”
The Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle, introduced in 1997, has since spawned several family members, and is now preparing to release its fourth iteration. Continually improving on its product, Toyota’s Kaizen development practice, Toyota has, per generation of the Toyota Prius, improved fuel economy by about 10%. If Uchiyamada is right, then we’ll see plenty of hybrid vehicles, not only from Toyota, but also from other manufacturers, as they build this bridge to a pure electric vehicle future.