Hybrids are going upscale.
At the media preview of the Frankfurt, Germany, auto show, Porsche AG last week became the latest automaker to promise a fuel-saving hybrid gasoline-electric model - a version of the Cayenne SUV to be developed jointly with Volkswagen and to go on sale within five years.
Meanwhile, an executive from Toyota, which sells more hybrids than any other carmaker, said all its vehicles eventually would be hybrid powered, though he gave no timetable.
And Mercedes-Benz unveiled two hybrid-powered experimental versions of its flagship S-Class sedan, one with a gasoline engine and the other with a diesel.
Although the timing of the Frankfurt announcements is coincidental with the recent run-up in gasoline prices following Hurricane Katrina, they reflect rising consumer interest in the vehicles as petroleum prices have crept upward.
Hybrids save fuel by virtue of electric motors, which help propel cars and run on batteries recharged by the gasoline engine and by energy normally wasted in braking.
Automotive market researchers J.D. Power and Associates forecast earlier this year that Americans would buy more than 600,000 hybrids a year by 2012. That figure was predicated on gasoline costing no more than $3.50 a gallon by 2012, an assumption that now appears risky.
Hybrids typically cost thousands more than comparable conventional models but the higher the price of gasoline, the more quickly the cars pay for themselves in fuel savings.
Also at Frankfurt, Honda showed a redesigned Civic, which goes on sale in the fall and, like its predecessor, will be available in hybrid form. Honda also sells the Insight hybrid and similarly powered version of the Accord.
Toyota has sold more than 400,000 hybrids worldwide since 1997, the most popular of which is the Prius, a sedan. Toyota also offers gasoline-electric models of the Lexus RX 330 and Toyota Highlander sport utility vehicles and plans next year to debut a hybrid Lexus GS sedan and Toyota Camry.
Nissan is expected next year to begin selling a hybrid Altima.
Ford Motor Co. offers hybrid Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner SUVs and has promised, for the 2008 model year, hybrid versions of its Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr midsize sedans.
General Motors is teaming with DaimlerChrysler and BMW in hybrid development, with the resulting components destined for full-size GM SUVs starting in 2007, the Dodge Durango SUV shortly thereafter and full-size GM pickups beginning in 2008.
Porsche gave no technical details of the hybrid Cayenne but said it would get 15 percent better fuel economy than current models, which EPA estimates have no higher than 15 miles per gallon in the city and 20 mpg on the highway.