Global sales of hybrid motor vehicles will see a 7.6-fold quantum jump to 3.75 million units during the 12-year period to 2020, according a study conducted by a research group. However, the electric vehicle sales are expected to flatten out at 135,000 units even in 2020 as the distance the vehicles can travel per charge is relatively limited and the construction of a network of recharging facilities is not likely to make substantial progress, according to the Japan-based Fuji Keizai Group, a leading information provider on industry and market.
Hybrid sales are projected at 1.85 million units in North America for 2020 – almost six times the 2008 figures - while Japanese sales are expected to rise to 800,000 units, a seven-fold increase over the 2008 sales.
The report goes on to say that since Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Co are deploying development resources into efforts to deliver affordable hybrids to customers, it will lead rivals to follow suit which will close price differentials between hybrids and gasoline engine.
Meanwhile, the trend seems to be clearly shifting toward hybrids with many leading auto manufacturers aggressively pushing their hybrid plans. Ford recently announced plans to invest $550 million to turn a factory that was dedicated to making gas guzzling SUVs toward scalable small-car plant that would eventually produce an all-electric version of the Focus.
During the 1990s SUV boom-time, the Michigan Truck Plant, as it was known then, rolled out the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator. The plant at that time was touted as one of the most profitable car manufacturing facilities in the world.
But, with SUVs no longer in fashion, the plant has been renamed the Michigan Assembly Plant, which will produce hybrid Focus sedans by 2010, according to reports, while an all-electric Ford Focus is expected to hit the market in 2011.
The conversion is expected to create 3,200 jobs and additional government tax incentives could even further job growth in the state according to media reports.
But, under the current state of the Detroit Big Three, analysts are wondering whether Ford would be able to pull off such a switch. The company lost a record $14.6 billion last year. But analysts point to one ray of hope in the April sales that fell nearly 32 per cent but were still better than the reported drop by Japanese automaker Toyota.
Even BMW seems to have read the writing on the wall and is working overtime to produce hybrids, according to analysts who cite BMW Group's chairman Norbert Rithofer's recent statement about hybrids. According to Rithofer, the company's BMW X6 and 7-Series ActiveHybrids will be in production-ready spec before the end of this year. The 7-Series is expected to come with a lithium-ion battery and a mild hybrid powertrain. The X6 will incorporate a new two-mode hybrid drivetrain developed in conjunction with Chrysler, General Motors, and Mercedes-Benz.
Meanwhile, Daimler has also announced plans to bring hybrids to the market this year in the form of the Mercedes M-Class full hybrid SUV and S-Class mild hybrid saloon that will drive on a next generation lithium battery.