More MBS CoverageTRAVERSE CITY, MI – The honeymoon phase may be ending for hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) in the U.S., but experts at the Management Briefing Seminars here remain undaunted by a spate of negative publicity.

At the Advanced Powertrain Forum, Dave Hermance, executive engineer-environmental Engineering for Ann Arbor, MI-based Toyota Technical Center USA Inc., expressed annoyance with recent media reports criticizing HEVs’ real-world fuel economy.

He predicts the hybrid technology will continue to be desirable to future everyday consumers, even as sales to early adopters decline.

In an interview, Hermance says HEVs ultimately will win converts by offering benefits beyond fuel economy, such as better performance.

Dave Hermance

He and experts from Ford Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. predict the cost of HEV systems will continue to come down, and their efficiency will improve. Batteries already are proving to be more durable than expected.

During a panel discussion, several participants joked that vehicles such as the Toyota Prius and Ford Escape Hybrid have become their own worst enemy by having prominent gauges that elaborately display their fuel economy.

Eliminating the displays, or installing them on every vehicle so consumers can see how almost all vehicles undershoot their rated fuel economy, was suggested as a tongue-in-cheek solution.

Educating consumers so they understand how driving patterns affect the fuel economy of all vehicles remains an issue, the panelists agreed.

On the positive side, battery life – once a big concern – is a pleasant surprise.

Hermance says HEV taxis now are on the road with more than 150,000 miles (241,000 km) and their original batteries. They have lasted the equivalent of 180,000 miles (290,000 km) in laboratory tests.

Most HEV battery packs now are warranted for 80,000 miles (129,000 km) or 100,000 miles (161,000 km).

There still could be variables associated with battery aging, which is difficult to simulate in a laboratory, but current experience shows HEV batteries should last the life of a vehicle, Hermance says.

Hermance says batteries remain the single highest-cost component of the HEV propulsion system. Materials – namely the nickel in nickel-metal hydride batteries – are the dominant cost within the batteries.

dwinter@primediabusiness.com