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The Present and Future of Hybrid Vehicles: Sports Utility Vehicles and Trucks

Copyright (c) 2008-2023

Most broadcast and cable news networks have highlighted the rise in gas prices over the last year, almost on a daily basis. These stories feature interviewers, average citizens, and elected officials looking for scapegoats that can absorb the blame for high prices at the pump. Invariably, they make mention of gas-guzzling trucks and sports utility vehicles (SUVs), as well as speculators, greedy oil companies, and gas taxes, as the prime movers for fuel costs.

As Dodge begins to offer 0% financing on new Dodge Trucks, Ford and Toyota suspend production on many of their pickup truck models, and Chevrolet starts closing truck and SUV factories, it would appear that the final nail has been put into the pickup truck and sports utility vehicle industry in the United States.

But the truth is that four-dollar plus gasoline has only hastened the demise of older designs, and the auto makers are rushing to accelerate their transition to the hybrid vehicles that were expected to be released in the 2010-2011 model years. Surprisingly, many of the most fuel-efficient vehicles available today and those due to the marketplace in the next couple years are actually pickups, SUV's, and crossover vehicles.

It is important for consumers to understand that automotive manufacturers are quickly moving toward hybrid versions of many cars, trucks, and SUV's, as fuel costs head toward $5 per gallon.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) published a report earlier this year highlighting the most fuel-efficient cars on the market. Most consumers would not be shocked to see that the top six vehicles on the list were coupes and sedans. ACEEE ( praises vehicles like the Honda Civic GX, Toyota Yaris and Smart ForTwo for their lightweight construction and innovative drive trains. The problem with the ACEEE list is that it does not use emissions and fuel efficiency as primary criteria.

There are plenty of trucks and SUVs on the market today that cut fuel costs over comparable vehicles of past generations. The great news is that many of the most fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles on the road today are not just cars, but they are also trucks and SUV's. In fact, according to the website, 14 of the 21 highest gas-mileage hybrid vehicles for the 2008 model year are pickup trucks, SUVs and crossovers (

Ford Motor Company has unveiled hybrid versions of its popular Escape SUV that improve gas mileage over previous versions of the vehicle. The front-wheel drive version of the Escape SUV gets 34 miles per gallon (MPG) city and 30 MPG on the highway due to hybrid technology. Ford produces a four-wheel drive version that gets 29 MPG during city driving and 27 MPG on the freeway. These vehicles use nickle metal hydride batteries and continually variable transmissions to cut fuel usage over past Escape models.

Mazda's Tribute SUV is available in two and four-wheel drive for consumers that want to lengthen periods between visits to the pump. The former version of the Tribute hybrid gets 34 MPG in the city and 30 MPG during freeway trips, while the four-wheel drive gets 29/27 MPG. Mazda's hybrid-electric vehicle can travel up to 25 miles without the use of gasoline before reverting to traditional combustion power.

The sleek design and clever marketing used by Mercury can obscure the benefits of its Mariner hybrid SUV. Mercury's connection to Ford Motor Company means that the Mariner hybrid is nearly identical to the Escape hybrid in terms of fuel efficiency. The Mariner's hybrid-electric system allows drivers to switch between gasoline, electricity and a combination of both power sources based on driving patterns. Drivers concerned about horsepower should know that the Mariner hybrid has 155hp capacity that is just slightly lower than the traditional Mariner model.

Most drivers recognize Toyota for its hybrid Prius, as well as fuel-efficient vehicles like the Yaris and Corolla. These drivers may not realize that Toyota also produces a hybrid version of the Highlander SUV, one that is a vast improvement over the automaker's past offerings. The Highlander hybrid gets 27/25 MPG using the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive that switches to electricity at low speeds. These gas mileage figures may differ greatly from the Toyota Prius and Yaris, but they are significant advancements in the SUV market.

Lexus with its 2009 RX400h is cornering the luxury hybrid SUV market. Drivers may not be impressed by the two-wheel drive's 27/24-MPG ratings, according to, but Lexus has not been a big player in the growing hybrid market. Lexus unveiled the world's first hybrid luxury SUV in 2004 and have maintained the brand's power while increasing its fuel efficiency. The Lexus Hybrid Drive allows drivers to reach freeway speed in a matter of seconds, without burning through fuel quickly to do it.

Drivers should look ahead to the future, when they search for fuel-efficient trucks and SUVs. Companies like Nissan and Toyota are promoting fuel efficiency in attractive packages with upcoming vehicle lines. A peek into the future should help every driver concerned about monthly fuel costs see the silver lining around the dark cloud, currently floating over the auto industry.

Nissan's Denki Cube SUV looks similar to a Scion xB or Honda Element, but offers a glimpse into the future of fuel-efficient vehicles. Nissan is creating a hybrid-electric version of the Denki Cube for the North American market in the 2010 model year. This product roll out will be followed by electric-only versions of the Denki Cube by 2015 throughout the world. The Denki Cube uses a lithium-ion battery and a hybrid drive train to bump gas mileage above 45 miles per gallon.

Toyota is forging a new direction for fuel-efficient trucks and SUVs as well, with its FCHV-adv prototype. This vehicle will be available in Japan within the next few months, after the federal government approved the FCHV-adv for road use. This SUV adds hydrogen tanks and regenerative brakes to the company's Highlander frame to ensure higher fuel efficiency. Toyota places the fuel mileage per filling of hydrogen between 348 and 472 miles with one test showing that the FCHV-adv may be able to reach a range of 516 miles with further development. The FCHV-adv uses low-energy electrical systems that reduce power to radios, air conditioning and wipers.

Several factors will dictate whether drivers can realize the promise of vehicles like the Denki Cube and FCHV-adv. State and federal incentives for hybrid vehicles will become more common, as auto manufacturers prove their hybrid vehicles are ready for the road. Consumers can opt for fuel-efficient trucks and SUVs already on the market, instead of gas-guzzling vehicles we are used to buying, to push producers toward more, cleaner vehicles. The average consumer can show support for hybrid trucks and SUVS by writing letters to their representatives, investing in vehicles currently on the market, and showing interest in prototypes at car shows.

As our elected leaders continue to wrestle with whom they can blame for high fuel prices, we consumers have a solution for reducing our own fuel consumption, right in front of us. The next time we buy a vehicle, we need to buy hybrid. The selection is wide and varied, and the hybrid vehicles available to us now offer real promise for enabling us to take a solid bite out of our overall fuel costs, without giving up luxury and other features, including the all-important legroom and acceleration power.

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It is not always necessary to change auto insurance companies to save money on car insurance. Getting a better price elsewhere often encourages insurance agents to offer additional discounts to existing customers. For Oklahoma drivers, the website can help them with the auto insurance quotes research process. For consumers in other states, try Butch Taft writes about automotive topics.

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Last Distribution Date:
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