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Diesel interest rises as hybrid interest falls

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Diesels challenge hybrids
Poll shows consumer interest in diesel engines is rising while buyers considering hybrids are down
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Christine Tierney | Link to Original Article @ The Detroit News

Enthusiasm for gas-electric hybrid vehicles dipped among prospective car buyers during the past year, while interest in new, cleaner diesels was rising, according to a survey issued Monday.

The poll conducted by J.D. Power and Associates found that 50 percent of prospective car buyers are considering a hybrid, down from 57 percent a year earlier.

"In the 2006 study, we found consumers often overestimated the fuel-efficiency of hybrid electric vehicles, and the decrease in consideration of hybrids in 2007 may be a result of their more realistic understanding of the actual fuel economy," said Mike Marshall, director of automotive emerging technologies at J.D. Power.

By contrast, the arrival of cleaner diesel-powered vehicles with new emission-lowering technology has heightened interest in this category, he said. Twenty-three percent of respondents said they were considering a diesel, up from 12 percent in 2006.

"Part of it is media-driven," said Chrysler spokesman Jason Vines. "Diesels are finally catching on."

He said consumers were growing aware of the popularity of diesels in Europe, where they account for half of new car sales, and where advanced technology has reduced emissions and soot.

Diesels vs. hybrids

Diesel-powered vehicles are about 30 percent more fuel-efficient than equivalent gas-powered cars. Hybrids also offer greater fuel economy but consumers have complained that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ratings overstate the mileage for some hybrids.

The competition between hybrids and diesels pits two national industries against each other: Germany's automakers are the leading manufacturer of diesel-powered vehicles, while the Japanese have pioneered hybrids.

Combined, diesel and hybrid sales account for less than 5 percent of U.S. auto sales. So far this year, about 150,000 hybrids and around 250,000 diesel-powered cars and light trucks have been sold in the United States.

In recent years, DaimlerChrysler AG tried to market diesels in the United States as an alternative to hybrids. But in 2004, it teamed up with General Motors Corp. to develop hybrids. "We've always had the belief you can't put all your eggs in one basket," Vines said. "This is a very complex marketplace."

Engines are costly to build

Consumers considering alternative powertrains were willing to pay more, but not always enough to cover the costs incurred by auto manufacturers. Diesel engines cost more to build than conventional gas-powered engines, and the costs are rising because of stricter U.S. emission standards. Hybrids, with dual powertrains and expensive batteries, also are costly to build.

Shoppers considering hybrids were willing to pay $2,396 more, on average, for a hybrid, while potential diesel car buyers would be willing to pay an additional $1,491, according to the study.

Earlier this year, when Toyota Motor Corp. offered incentives for the first time on its popular Prius hybrid, its executives said the market had evolved to include more mainstream buyers.

Incentives on hybrid vehicles range from $100 on the new Camry hybrid and $880 on the Ford Mariner hybrid to $2,207 on the gas-electric Accord, which is going to be phased out of production, and $3,200 on the Toyota Highlander hybrid SUV.

Toyota expects hybrid sales in the United States to rise to 250,000 this year from less than 200,000 last year.

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I'll take a clean diesel over a hybrid any day. At least on a diesel I can expect somewhat of a return on the price premium.

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Both technologies are expensive in up front and maintenance costs, with respect to conventional gasoline engines; however, diesels are proven and do offer long term benefits for HIGH MILEAGE consumers. Hybrids are tempermental and (so far) are only competitive when propped up with extensive government rebates.

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Hybrid = clusterfu**k maintenace/ownership costs

Diesel = longevity and REAL world MPG improvement

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