Researchers in France, Concerned about the growth potential of hybrid-electric vehicles, say hybrid technology is not sustainable, and the current rush to HEVs could delay development of more advanced fuel cell-powered vehicles.

Jean-Jacques Chanaron, research director at the French National Center for Scientific Research, along with Julius Teske of the Grenoble School of Management, say in the International Journal of Automotive Technology and Management some auto makers are pushing HEVs even though they are not significantly profitable or environmentally sustainable.

In what they term as a misinformed craze, demand for HEVs in the U.S. — and increasingly in Japan and Europe — potentially could slow the introduction of viable fuel-cell vehicles that rely on sustainable hydrogen-fuel sources.

Although the researchers admit fuel-cell vehicles will not be available in high volumes until 2025, they concede the technology could be too late for some climate-change and emissions-reduction scenarios.

In addition, the researchers say even fuel-cell technology has its drawbacks and much of the marketing surrounding its potential has emerged from a hydrogen lobby.

“There is a general convergence of strategies towards promoting hybrid vehicles as the mid-term solution to very low-emission and high-mileage vehicles,” the researchers say.

“This is due largely to Toyota (Motor Corp.'s) strategy of learning the technology, while building up its own quasi-standard, thanks to its reputation for high quality and reliability and its high market share in the North American market.”

Chanaron and Teske also charge that customer perception of HEVs is triggered by very clever marketing and communication campaigns, rather than rational scientific arguments. Along with mounting political pressure, they say this situation may force auto makers operating in the U.S. market to offer HEVs in order to survive.

“There is a huge strategic dilemma for the key players of the automotive industry where a mistake in technology decision-making might turn even a big player into a take-over candidate. The next five years will provide industry observers with more accurate trends and success or failure factors.”