Hybrid Car Sales Fail to Meet Predictions

Over a decade ago, automakers predicted that every new car would be a hybrid by 2020. Why were they so off the mark?

1 minute read

September 2, 2021, 12:00 PM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Electric Cars

Sopotnicki / Shutterstock

In 2008, an IBM report "asked 125 auto industry executives about their predictions for what cars would be like in 2020. The resulting report predicted every car by 2020 would be a hybrid," writes Aaron Gordon. Yet the actual numbers are nowhere close: only about three percent of new cars sold in 2020 were hybrids, an extremely modest increase from 2.4 percent at the time of the report. Automakers also wrongly predicted a trend toward smaller, more efficient vehicles. In fact, "as quickly as the economy recovered and gas prices fell, consumers returned to buying the biggest trucks and SUVs they could find." Meanwhile, hybrids became associated with Hollywood elites, decreasing their appeal for many ordinary Americans.

Dan Sperling, professor at University of California, Davis and founding director of the Institute for Transportation Studies, more accurately predicted the pace of hybrid and EV adoption. But Sperling thinks the current situation is different. According to Sperling, "the combination of reduced battery costs and future regulations both in the U.S. and abroad will ensure auto companies follow through" on new plans to boost EV production and sales. "Even if the federal government doesn't enact EV mandates, California will, Sperling said, and many states will likely follow. He predicted the needle won't move much before 2026, but after that, expect the market to take off."

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