What Makes A Hybrid Hot

Buyers seem to prefer ones that feel, um, weird to drive

With gas sky-high, hybrids should be red hot. Well, yes and no. While the Toyota Prius sells in eight days, the Honda Accord hybrid takes some two months -- just shy of the industry average -- to exit the lot, says J.D. Power & Associates Inc. (MHP ) The Civic hybrid is no Prius, either; it takes 36 days to move.

Clearly, the Prius's conspicuous display of uber-greenness is key to its success. But it and the briskly selling Toyota Highlander, Lexus RX 400h, and Ford (F ) Escape hybrid SUVs also feature a radically new driving experience. It's quite a thrill to hit the accelerator and slip along in near silence. Not so for Honda hybrids. Because the gasoline engine is working most of the time -- getting an electrical boost during acceleration -- it drives much like a regular car. Honda says its technology is fuel efficient and cheaper, but that may not be enough to wow drivers.

It doesn't help any of the hybrid makers that fuel consumption fails to match what's advertised. The Environmental Protection Agency ratings touted by car companies are based on lab tests, which don't reflect real-world conditions. For Honda, it's a double-whammy: fuel consumption that doesn't meet the EPA rating, and hybrids that don't drive in a way that surprises consumers.

By David Welch

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