Saturday, December 27, 2003

U.S. Carmakers Slow To Join Hybrid Parade
Despite the technology's growing popularity, Detroit automakers seem to be playing catch-up again to their Japanese rivals, with no similar products expected from the Big Three until next year. But it isn't simply a matter of being caught flat-footed. U.S. automakers -- and some Europeans, as well -- remain skeptical about hybrid technology, and plan to approach it differently than Toyota and Honda.

Led by General Motors, Detroit will start offering hybrid technology in trucks before cars, concentrating on improving the gas mileage of some of the biggest guzzlers in the fleet. "I think what they're doing is actually going against the grain in terms of putting the hybrids in the worst fuel economy vehicles in their lineup, because that is where the consumer is going to see the greatest benefit," said Walter McManus, an industry expert with J.D. Power and Associates.

The differing strategies are laying the groundwork for a hybrid showdown in the marketplace. "Toyota will set the agenda on the car side, but it's going to be GM setting the agenda on the truck side," said Arthur M. Spinella, an auto industry consultant with CNW Marketing Research in Bandon, Ore. "There is going to be quite an intense little battle between the two of them, and everybody else is going to be sucked into their wake on this one whether they like it or not."

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