Here’s an interesting article about the expansion of hybrid vehicles at the Detroit Auto Show. The article has a couple of nice comments about issues that I think are important, namely the unpredictable pace of technological change and the role that consumer preferences play in shaping the decisions of the manufacturers.
Past auto shows have featured varying promises and predictions about greener vehicles. In 1998, for example, some automakers forecast that they would be ready to produce hybrids by 2001 and fuel cell vehicles by 2004. Now, hybrids are just making headway and widespread availability for fuel cell vehicles is probably a decade from now.
“There clearly is a desire to improve fuel economy,” said Mike Wall, an analyst for the forecasting firm CSM Worldwide. “The trick is consumers still want the high horsepower vehicles, the large vehicles.”
Still, though, environmental groups insist that consumers will be better off if we are forced to purchase vehicles that do not have the characteristics that we value:
“Overall, they’re not doing a good job,” said Brendan Bell, an expert with the Sierra Club’s global warming and energy program. “They’re creating a few vehicles. But at the same time under current fuel efficiency standards, when they build an efficient vehicle they can build another gas guzzler. That is really taking us backward.”