Hybrid cars and gasoline prices

It has been suggested by a commenter that I am only qualified to comment on hybrid cars and gasoline prices. Being a cell biologist, I’m not quite certain that that is truly my area of expertise, but I am a hybrid owner (although my preferred means of transportation involves two wheels and two pedals), and I do have to buy gas from time to time, so I guess that does qualify me to some extent…

So why has no one released a hybrid 7-passenger minivan in the US? The common rationale given is that, other than the Prius, hybrids and other alternatively powered vehicles do not sell well in the US, ergo there is no market for a hybrid minivan. I can only assume the bean counters in Detroit and Tokyo know what they’re doing, although for Detroit in particular there is not much of a good recent track record to go on. But it seems to me like a faulty assumption that there is little market for a 7-passenger hybrid minivan. A Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna should be able to be equipped with a hybrid powertrain to easily achieve 30+ mpg. How do I know this? Well, Toyota sells a hybrid 7-passenger Estima minivan in Japan, said to get around 40mpg. Even if one accounts for the macho American love of big crush-everything-in-their-path cars, 30+ should be more than doable. Walk around any school or soccer field parking lot and see all the minivans and SUVs. It seems to me that at least a subset of those people would consider a hybrid to get that kind of mileage, for either cost or environmental reasons, especially if Toyota or Honda, who have long track records with hybrids, made one. The Prius sells so well because it achieves a very big bump in mpg compared to a regular car, at minimal markup; the Prius costs roughly as much as a Camry, to which it is in many ways comparable (less generously appointed, but far more functional). I would think the same could be accomplished in a minivan; the technology is advanced enough that the markup should not have to be so steep.

I suppose as long as gas is ridiculously cheap here (and yes, $4/gallon–and currently falling–is ridiculously cheap compared to the ~$6 U.S./gallon in Canada, or ~$8/gallon in western Europe, where gas is much more heavily taxed) perhaps there is no real market for a hybrid minivan; it simply isn’t cost-effective to the buyer for whom cost is the only consideration. Our love of cars and our unwillingness to make alternative means of transport more feasible will ensure that the pattern of ever-increasing CO2 emissions will considerable for the foreseeable future.

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