Auto makers for two decades have leaned on hybrid vehicles to help them comply with regulations on fuel consumption and give customers greener options in the showroom. Now, two of the world’s largest car manufacturers say they see no future for hybrids in their U.S. lineups.
General Motors Co. GM and Volkswagen AG are concentrating their investment on fully electric cars, viewing hybrids—which save fuel by combining a gasoline engine with an electric motor—as only a bridge to meeting tougher tailpipe-emissions requirements, particularly in China and Europe.
GM plans to launch 20 fully electric vehicles world-wide in the next four years, including plug-in models in the U.S. for the Chevy and Cadillac brands. Volkswagen has committed billions to producing more battery-powered models, including introducing a small plug-in SUV in the U.S. next year and an electric version of its minibus around 2022.
“If I had a dollar more to invest, would I spend it on a hybrid? Or would I spend it on the answer that we all know is going to happen, and get there faster and better than anybody else?” GM President Mark Reuss said in an interview.
GM’s view contrasts with other auto-making giants, including Toyota Motor Corp. TM 0.93% and Ford Motor Co. F -0.32% , which are working on full electrics but also expanding their U.S. hybrid offerings. The differing strategies show a division within the auto industry over what is the best path to full electrification, as manufacturers pivot from their more than century-old reliance on gas-powered vehicles.
Last week, Continental AG, one of the world’s biggest car-parts makers, said it would cut investment in conventional engine parts because of a faster-than-expected fall in demand—yet another sign the industry is accelerating the shift to electric vehicles.
Toyota, Ford and other car companies have made hybrids a core part of their plans for both the U.S. and overseas markets, seeing them as an interim product for the majority of the car buyers that still drive gasoline vehicles and may not be ready for an all-electric ride.
Ford, for instance, plans to add hybrid versions of popular models like the F-150 pickup truck and Ford Explorer, in an effort to boost the fuel economy of its fleet in the near-term while continuing to develop fully electric models for farther down the road.
“We can’t say to the customer ‘You have to take an all-electric vehicle,’” said David Filipe, Ford’s head of powertrain engineering. “We’re going to be aggressively chasing this space of hybrids.”
Today, auto companies generally lose money on each electric car they sell, mostly because of the high cost of lithium-ion batteries. Concerns about the battery range, along with a lack of places to plug in, also deter buyers from considering electric vehicles. Those factors make going straight to all-electric cars a risky strategy, analysts say.
While hybrid and all-electric vehicle sales have increased over time, the technology has failed to catch on more broadly.
Hybrids, which were popularized by Toyota’s Prius last decade as a social statement, accounted for about 3% of U.S. sales in 2018, according to research firm LMC Automotive. Sales of plug-in electric vehicles were around 1% of the total market—mostly thanks to the success of Tesla Inc.’s offerings.