Forecast shows more hybrids, electric vehicles in 2013

Six new hybrid vehicle models and eight more plug-ins  will be offered in auto showrooms in 2013 compared to this year, according to automotive forecaster Alan Baum.

In a recent report released with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Baum noted that the selection of alternative-fuel and hybrid vehicles is continuing to expand, even as traditional gasoline-powered cars become more efficient. Even large cars and trucks are getting more miles per gallon of fuel, he said.

“We may not think of the pickup segment in regard to fuel economy, but that’s just what’s occurring,” Baum said, noting that Chrysler introduced a more fuel efficient version of its Ram this year.

“The automakers are literally in an all-of-the-above strategy,” he said. “If you want a pickup truck, fine. If you want a little car, fine. If you want a hybrid or electric, that’s OK, too.”

From  2009 to 2013, the number of hybrid vehicle models offered will have doubled to 50 and the number of plug-ins will have jumped from one to 28, said Luke Tonachel of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Baum said plug-in Honda Accords and Ford Fusions are on the horizon. A Volkswagen Jetta hybrid emerged this year and the Nissan Altima hybrid will appear in 2013, he added. And there’s a drive toward offering other fuel-saving technologies, like stop-start ability.

More diesel-powered vehicles also are being offered on the U.S. market, generally offering better fuel mileage than their gasoline counterparts, Baum noted.

Automakers’ move away from gas guzzlers mean $2.50 a gallon gasoline has become their worst nightmare, he added.

“They have committed their companies to this path and that obviously will be more difficult if gasoline becomes cheap,” he said.

The price of gasoline has been in steep decline since August, dropping to a national average of $3.28. It hit nearly $4 earlier this year.

Meanwhile, vehicles traveled  more than a mile farther per gallon in 2012 compared to 2011, Baum said. Between vehicle model years 2012 and 2013, fuel economy will climb another 0.8 miles per gallon, he added.

Still, Baum doesn’t expect the gas price drop will lead to a dramatic change in consumer behavior toward auto sales.

“I don’t think they are at the point where they think this is the norm,” he said. “The consumers and automakers continue to believe that the long-term trend for fuel prices is high.”