Hybrid SUV Milestones

While the hybrid SUV phenomena can’t match the combination of peanut butter and chocolate for pure popularity, the blending of truck-based people-mover and electric propulsion technology has produced a notable oxymoron.

Justly or not, SUVs are frequently cast as the poster boy for conspicuous consumption. You won’t find the conventional press or hordes of lemmings (any similarities are purely coincidental) praising the vast majority of SUVs for their fuel-stinginess. Yet the Ford Escape Hybrid SUV achieves quite remarkable gas mileage in city settings. (We were able to hit the magic 40 MPG mark in-town in our Escape Hybrid review.) This unique quality has led the Escape Hybrid to sell out its production runs, year-after-year.

Earlier this week, Ford announced a notable milestone: the 100,000th Escape Hybrid has rolled off the line at the Kansas City Assembly Plant. With production constraints due to battery availability, 100,000 vehicles in a relatively short time frame is significant. It’s clear that many Americans aren’t keen on giving up their SUVs and the Escape Hybrid fills an important niche.

The economic climate and drop in the price of gasoline have not been kind to the market, and there’s little to trumpet on this front on the other side of town. With Chrysler putting a hold on production of the Chrysler Aspen Hybrid and Dodge Durango Hybrid late last year, the twins have earned the distinction of being the first hybrid SUVs to be put on hold … two canaries in the coal mine. The market has further delayed the introduction of GM’s next-generation Saturn VUE Two-Mode Hybrid.

Nevertheless, there are seven hybrid SUVs available in America today. Over the last twelve months, we’ve had the good fortune to have opportunity to review four of the hybrid SUVs currently on sale:

While we generally prefer smaller vehicles, we’re looking forward to putting the Tahoe Hybrid to a week-long road test this month with excursions for building materials and bulk goods that would overwhelm a smaller SUV.

Hybrid technology will likely have a place in a greater number of SUVs, going forward, but it is not the be-all, end-all. With the introduction of the Audi Q7 TDI and BMW X5d, America is getting its first look at the power and fuel efficiency of clean diesel engines. While these two technologies may ultimately blend, it will not in all likelihood, happen first (if at all) with a domestic American manufacturer … unless the partnership between Chrysler and Fiat quickly bears fruit.

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