2008 Hybrid Car – Year in Review

What kind of year has it been for the 2008 Hybrid? GM’s product chief called global warming a “crock of shit.” An eight-cylinder SUV Hybrid won “Green Car of the Year” award. Prius waiting lists returned and then evaporated. Plug-in Hybrid Mania.

The biggest impacts on hybrids in 2008 were macro-economic: roller-coaster swings in oil and gasoline prices—and turmoil in financial markets that dramatically reduced credit and car sales, and left great uncertainty about the future of Detroit automakers.

2008 Hybrid Car Trends

  1. Roller-Coaster Supply and Demand for Hybrids

    In the spring of 2008, gas prices skyrocketed and hybrid demand soared. Unfortunately, Toyota, Honda, Ford, and General Motors were all locked into a pattern of limited availability. Waiting lists returned and a big opportunity for the auto industry was missed. Months later, after an economic meltdown and with gas prices below $2 a gallon, waiting lists disappeared and hybrid sales dropped by 50 percent.

  2. Small Cars Get Big

    In May, the Honda Civic, a compact car available with either a hybrid or gasoline engine, displaced Ford’s F-series pickup truck as the month’s best-selling vehicle. That marked the first time in 16 years that a passenger sedan—not a truck—was the top-selling vehicle in the United States. Major auto shows throughout the world put small cars in the center stage.

  3. Electric Car Fanfare

    General Motors, Chrysler, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru and others unveiled prototypes of electric cars scheduled for mass production in 2010 or 2011. Meanwhile, the highest profile electric car from last year, the Tesla Roadster, barely managed to roll a few production versions out of the factory and threatened to halt its future plans if it didn’t get government support along with the Big Three.

  4. Plug-in Hybrids Gain Support

    Al Gore, Andy Grove, John McCain, Barack Obama, the Google Guys, and top execs from Detroit all pointed to the plug-in hybrid as the game-changer for cars, energy, the environment, energy security and the future of American auto workers. General Motors and Toyota fought a war of words over their competing plug-in hybrid designs.

  5. Hydrogen “Real-World” Testing Programs

    In June, Honda began production of the FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle with the first vehicle coming off the line. In July, the company issued its first three-year leases for the Clarity to Southern California at $600 per month. GM continued its hydrogen fuel cell testing program, Project Driveway, that began in 2007. Actual production of hydrogen vehicles seems further away than ever.

Top 2008 Hybrid Car Quotes

  1. “80 Percent Hybrids by 2020”

    Speaking at the New York Auto Show, GM Product Guru Bob Lutz said, “Ultimately by 2020 we figure that 80 percent of vehicles will require some sort of hybridization [because of new U.S. fuel- economy standards]. We cannot get to 35 miles per gallon with anything resembling the current product portfolio with anything resembling current technology.”

  2. “Taxpayer Money for Flex-Fuel Hybrids”

    New York Times columnist Tom Friedman argued that green cars should be central to any Detroit Bailout. He wrote: “Any car company that gets taxpayer money must demonstrate a plan for transforming every vehicle in its fleet to a hybrid-electric engine with flex-fuel capability, so its entire fleet can also run on next generation cellulosic ethanol.”

  3. “Green Cars Shouldn’t Be Mandated”

    The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board disagreed with Friedman. Their opinion: “Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi now want to bail out Detroit once more, while mandating that the Big Three build green cars. If consumers really wanted green cars, no mandate would be necessary. Washington here is just marching Detroit deeper into an unsustainable business model, requiring ever more interventions in the future.”

  4. “The Chevy Volt Is The Future of America”In July, Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain told a crowd of 500 GM autoworkers “The eyes of the world are now on the Chevy Volt. It’s the future of America and the world.” In September, he came under fire from the United Auto Workers for buying a Toyota Prius for his daughter. 
  5. “Prius Development Paid For by Japanese Government”

    On March 20, Jim Press, Chrysler President, told BusinessWeek, “The Japanese government paid for 100 percent of the development of the battery and hybrid system that went into the Toyota Prius.” When Jim Press was the top executive for Toyota USA, he said that the Japanese government never directly aided the company in the development of the Toyota Prius.

  6. “Cars That Run on Green Beans and Soy Milk”

    Peter De Lorenzo, of, told a group of auto marketers gathered in Las Vegas, “If you live in Sausalito, and you want to drive a car that runs on green beans and soy milk, hey it’s cool. And if you live in Detroit, and you have a 427 Stingray that you have tucked away in your garage, and you just want to drive it once every couple of weeks, that should be cool too. We have the right to make complete fools of ourselves in this country.”

2008 Hybrid Award Winners

The 2008 V8 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, which won the “Green Car of the Year” award at the L.A. Auto Show, achieves the same city fuel economy as a four-cylinder Toyota Camry.

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  • Honda Civic GX

    For the fifth year in a row, the Honda Civic GX, which runs on compressed natural gas, was named the “Greenest Vehicle” by The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

  • Toyota Prius

    Consumer Reports named the Toyota Prius the green car “Top Pick.”

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    Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid

    The 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid was named “Green Car of the Year” at the Los Angeles Auto Show in late 2007.

Biggest 2008 Hybrid News Stories

In September, Honda recycled the Honda Insight name, first introduced in the United States in 1999. The 2010 Honda Insight—with four doors, plenty of room, and a $19,000 price tag—is aimed squarely at Toyota Prius buyers.

  1. CEOs Drive to Washington in Hybrids

    The CEOs of the Big Three automakers were blasted by US lawmakers for bringing their tin cups to Washington in corporate jets. They learned their lesson in the value of political symbolism, and made their follow-up trip in hybrid cars—no doubt with tin cups safely nestled in the cupholders.

  2. The Reality of Higher CAFE Standards

    In December 2007, Congress approved an increase in Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) to 35 miles per gallon by the year 2020, leaving it to the Bush administration to decide how fast to implement the increases. In April, the Department of Transportation announced an aggressive timetable for fuel economy increases: automakers will be required to raise average fuel efficiency to 31.5 miles per gallon by 2015—thereby deflecting proposals from California and 16 other states that call for fuel economy to reach more than 43 miles per gallon by 2016.

  3. Toyota Sells 1,000,000 Hybrids

    On May 15, 2008, Toyota announced that it had sold its millionth Prius worldwide.

  4. Return of Honda Insight

    Honda revived the name of the first hybrid gas-electric car introduced in the United States: the Honda Insight. The new , which goes on sale in the US in April 2009, is expected to sell in relatively high quantities. Honda is targeting annual global sales of 200,000 units per year, with approximately 100,000 in North America.

2008 Hybrid Top Sellers

Hybrid salesman could have sold a lot more hybrids in 2008. But the car companies, especially Toyota and Ford, didn’t have nearly enough hybrids to sell. (Photo: Wolfiewolf via flickr/creative commons.)

    1. Toyota Prius

      In 2008, Toyota continued to sell more Priuses than all other hybrids combined—despite not receiving a substantial design or technology enhancement since its debut five years ago. Prius waiting lists returned during the gas spike of Spring 2008 because the company couldn’t keep up with demand.

    2. Toyota Camry Hybrid

      The Camry hybrid is the second most popular 2008 hybrid—even though Toyota sells fewer than one-quarter as many Camry hybrids as Priuses. Now in its second model year, the Camry Hybrid will face little real competition in the high-mpg family sedan category until the Ford Fusion Hybrid goes on sale in 2009. For the 2008 model, Toyota dropped the price of the Camry hybrid by $1,000.

    3. Honda Civic Hybrid

      The 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid continued without any changes since its successful update for the 2006 model year. The 2008 Civic Hybrid continued to move in the shadow of the Toyota Prius—even though it delivered nearly the same mileage for thousands less.

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      Toyota Highlander Hybrid

      For 2008, Toyota completely redesigned the Highlander Hybrid. It offered more refinement and a larger body, while still maintaining the same level of fuel economy as its predecessor. For even greater emphasis on efficiency, Toyota outfitted the Highlander Hybrid with both “EV” and “Econ” driving modes—controllable by dashboard buttons.

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  1. Lexus RX 400h

    The design of the 2008 Lexus RX400h was mostly unchanged, except for a few new colors, chrome door handles, and minor updates. It was still distinguished from its non-hybrid sibling, the RX 350, by a unique grille and fog lamps—and a premium of about $5,000.

2008 Hybrid Introductions

The V8 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, which achieves the same city fuel economy as a four-cylinder Toyota Camry, can two up to 6,000 pounds.

    • Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

      The Chevy Malibu had its national coming-out party at the 2007 Major League Baseball All-Star Game in July 2007, but didn’t roll out to dealerships until the beginning of 2008. The The 2008 Malibu Hybrid, which offers a 2-mpg improvement in fuel economy compared to the conventional Malibu, managed about 300 sales per month. The 2009 Malibu Hybrid adds another 2-mpg bump.

    • Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid and GMC Yukon Hybrid

      The Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, along with its GMC counterpart, the GMC Yukon Hybrid, were the first vehicles to utilize the advanced two-mode hybrid powertrain developed jointly by BMW, DaimlerChrysler, and General Motors. The full-size SUV launched a new breed of larger hybrids offering V8 performance, towing capacity, and off road capabilities—while reducing fuel consumption to the level of a sedan.

    • Chrysler Aspen Hybrid and Dodge Durango Hybrid

      Chrysler followed the release of GM’s Large SUV Hybrids with the release of their own: the 2009 Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen Hybrids. These hulking SUVs pair up a hybrid gas-electric system—the symbol of automotive virtue—with a powerful Hemi engine, which is best known for winning car races. Facing severe financial difficulties, Chrysler shut down the factory that made Aspens and Durangos, thereby killing these two hybrids before the first vehicles arrived to dealerships.

    • Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid and GMC Sierra Hybrid

      The GMC Sierra Hybrid pickup, and the Silverado Hybrid, were the first hybrid trucks launched in the United States 2006. With negligible fuel economy improvements of about 2 mpg, the pair of gas-electric trucks were quietly dropped by GM in 2006. It returned in late 2008 with full hybrid versions of the two vehicles—this time offering 40 percent higher city fuel economy compared with the gas versions.

    • Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

      The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid became the first luxury SUV available in Extra Large. All the amenities you could expect from a Cadillac; all the capacity to carry eight passengers; and half the fuel consumption. The full hybrid system from General Motors grants the Escalade Hybrid a 50 percent improvement in city fuel economy compared to the gas-powered Cadillac Escalade. Sales averaged about 200 units per month.