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Lisa Jacobson/MEDILL 

Hybrid autos like this Honda, will be a bigger presence at this year's Chicago Auto Show than in previous years.

Hybrids take a more prominent place at auto show

by Lisa Jacobson
Jan 28, 2009

Americans’ love affair with cars has a new focus, driven by high fuel costs and environmental concerns, apparent by the lineup at the upcoming Chicago Auto Show.

Manufacturers will display more than 17 hybrids at the show this year, more than in any previous year.

"What is new is the amount of manufacturers that are displaying more models," said Jerry H. Cizek III, Chicago Auto Show manager. "As gas prices vary, fickle public buying prices vary," Cizek said, "people aren't going for extravagant tastes."

The hybrid market is rapidly expanding from Honda and Toyota, which have 75 to 77 percent of the hybrid market, said Michael P. Ward, stock analyst for Soleil Securities. This year Dodge, General Motors and Ford will also bring hybrids to Chicago's upcoming auto show.

“It’s a renewed focus, whether it is driven by politics or headlines,” Ward said.

Hybrids use two different power sources to propel the vehicle, gas engines and electric motors.

Hybrids "don't require a person to adjust driving style or habits,” said Bill Kwon, a Toyota spokesman, so they are a good alternative to a traditional vehicle and they are "70 percent cleaner than comparable vehicles."

The dual power sources give hybrid vehicles improved fuel efficiency, which drove hybrid sales as gas prices climbed last year.

While the price of fuel has dropped, Daniel Burrus, consultant on technological change said, he expects gas prices to increase again, keeping hybrids an attractive option.

"Developing a new car takes more than a year -- oil and gas started going up several years ago," Burrus said. "When oil prices increased, all companies started putting more effort into alternative fuel."

Ward said hybrids account for less than 3 percent of auto sales. He said that may grow over time, but probably will never exceed 10 percent of car sales.

Hybrids are a potential solution, but are not the only solution, Ward said. He has seen different technologies hyped at different times, but expects “some sort of a more efficient system will evolve over the next few years.”

A General Motors spokesman agrees.

“We are into fuel cell vehicles,” said Robert Herta, communications manager for General Motors. “We have an electric vehicle coming into production next year. I know we will have several vehicles that have advanced technologies in them.”

The 101st Chicago Auto Show runs Feb. 13 to Feb. 22 at
McCormick Place.