Hybrid’s Lewis and Clark Go Lewis and Martin

February 10, 2006

It’s time to stop mentioning Toyota and Honda together as if they were the Lewis and Clark of hybrid vehicles. These days, they’re more like Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, taking their own roads down the gas-electric highway.

A few weeks ago in Detroit, Honda CEO Takeo Fukui decidedly played down the expansion possibilities of the company’s hybrid program, measurably cool to the notion of putting hybrid powertrains in any more vehicles than the company has right now — Civic, Accord, and Insight. Honda has no plans for hybrids in Acura, he said. He did say that the company was bringing four-cylinder diesels to the U.S. in a few years, though.

Hybrids don’t offer anything to drivers outside of crowded cities, Fukui reasoned. Good reason. Meanwhile, Toyota COO Jim Press came off very cool to diesels, though he says the company continues to study them, especially for the new Tundra pickup. “Hybrids are and will be the best engineering solution we have for some time to cutting down our dependence on oil,” Press said. As for diesels, “The EPA and California haven’t gotten behind the low-sulfur diesel we’ll have this year, and the diesel systems are still very expensive and there is the issue of consumer acceptance.”

Two companies that often get linked together every time the issue of hybrids comes up have very different strategies and attitudes, it turns out. —Jim Burt

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