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Dear Valued Hybrid Customer…

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This editorial appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, November 30, 2005. Written tongue-in-cheek, Jenkins pokes fun at the hype hybrids have achieved to date. Indeed, his commentary reflects some of the perceptions gathered in our September, 2005 VehicleVoice (http://vehiclevoice.com) Hybrid Study.

Dear Valued Hybrid Customer…

Business World/by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.
We at the Toyota Motor Corporation are writing to address certain misconceptions that have arisen about your Toyota Prius model, which we are proud to note is driven by many celebriies, including Prince Charles and HBO’s Larry David.
Prius blog.jpg
Our pioneering gasoline-electric hybrid, introduced in 1999, has become an object of adoration to the world’s enlightened car buyers. Our competitors, including American’s Big Three, are rushing out hybrid vehicles of their own. Unconfirmed media reports say that we at Toyota intend to double our hybrid output to 500,000 vehicles next year. Along with other members of the auto industry, we will be lobbying for tax breaks and HOV privileges for hybrid vehicles.


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carbuyersnotebook.com Article and Podcast on Gas Prices

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I met Frank Giovinazzi at a recent press event. Frank has created an excellent site that combines all the latest in automotive online reporting – articles, links, commentary, podcast and video-casts. Frank’s site, while fun and irreverent, often takes a different spin on automotive “truisms”.
Frank interviewed George Peterson, president of AutoPacific, for a podcast concerning the VehicleVoice internet survey of the impact of present fuel prices on American drivers.
Check out his site at http://www.carbuyersnotebook.com/archives/2005/11/car_buyers_note_98.htm


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Are High Fuel Prices Changing The Way Americans Drive?

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AutoPacific’s Vehicle Voice Research – Consumer Reaction to Continuing High Fuel Prices


How are you reacting to the price of fuel? VehicleVoice surveyed panelists to find out.

As the price of gasoline in the United States remains high, the October 2005 Fuel Price Impact Survey conducted by VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) for AutoPacific, Inc confirms that many consumers intend to shift the type of vehicle they drive, though not quite to the extent they indicated only one month ago. The Fuel Price Impact Survey is based on the results of a VehicleVoice Internet survey with 1,145 respondents who completed the survey between October 17 and October 22, 2005.
Actual fuel price down; anticipated fuel price up!
In the last month the median price respondents say they paid for fuel has declined seven cents per gallon, but the median price they expect to pay one year from now has increased by five cents per gallon.
Major, but reduced shift away from SUVs and towards Small Cars.
While over half (63%) of the respondents indicate that they will not change the type of vehicle they drive, there clearly is impact on the Sport Utility Vehicle category. About 22% of SUV owners say they will shift to another type of vehicle next time they buy, down from 27% a month ago. The vehicle class most likely to benefit from this migration is Small Cars (up 33% this month, compared with a 41% increase last month). While the data do not show a direct relationship of drivers moving from SUVs to Small Cars, there is a tendency to move from less fuel-efficient classes to vehicle types that get better gas mileage.
Hybrid preference still huge, seen as silver bullet!
About 25% of drivers who have vehicles powered by V8 engines say they will shift to more fuel-efficient engines, the same as reported last month. Vehicles with hybrid powerplants will be considered by 15% of the respondents, virtually unchanged from the prior survey. This is a reaction to the continuing positive media attention surrounding hybrid-powered vehicles and the public’s perception that hybrids are an answer to the higher price of fuel. There is also somewhat more interest in diesel engines, though significantly less than the level of interest in a gas-electric hybrid.
High fuel price seen as BAD for America!
The culprits identified by the respondents as contributing to high fuel prices are Big Oil Companies, OPEC, Natural Disasters and Limited Refining Capacity. When asked whether high fuel prices are good or bad for America, 80% say that high fuel prices are “bad for America”, unchanged from the prior survey. In the land where roads have been paved by cheap gas, attitudes are that conservation stimulated by higher gasoline prices is not the popular way to go. Higher fuel prices might actually encourage conservation, and thus be good for the planet, but respondents don’t see it that way.


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Are SUVs a Danger to Kids?

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While many people are eager to sit up high in their SUV, the feeling of safety is apparently one that is restricted to the interior of the vehicle. According to a new article published by CNN, more than 2,400 children are run over by SUVs being reversed. The article says drivers cannot see what is close to the vehicle and children in particular, are at risk.

Unfortunately, the CNN article is bringing attention to a situation that is not new. In August 2003, the Detroit News published an article on SUV backup dangers. According to the research offered by author Jeff Plungis, 32.1% of all fatalities by incident in 2002 were from being backed over by the vehicle. This statistic, however, was only the second most common danger zone – with children being left in the vehicle and dying being tops – at 36.7%.

A safety activist group called Kids and Cars (www.kidsandcars.org), is trying to get the word out about safety and children. The organization offers education tips, statistics on incidents, and discusses pending and potential legislation to protect children around all vehicles, not just SUVs. Other articles have recently been published by other newspapers, including the Globe and Sun and the Las Vegas Sun.

Regardless of the statistics, some people feel that owners should be held accountable, rather than the vehicles being noted as dangerous. President Bush has opposed several measures approved by the House, calling them, “too prescriptive.” Others, such as Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen, a non-profit public interest organization, feels the equipment itself should be regulated. Ms. Claybrook was administrator of the NHTSA from 1977 through 1981.

As the trend towards SUV and crossover vehicles continues, the question comes up: Should SUVs be labeled as potentially dangerous vehicles in ordinary driving? Does this excuse drivers themselves from the responsibility of knowing where their children and others who may be in proximity to their vehicles are? And, given the technology available today, will rear-view video cameras be enough to signal whether or not a child or pet is present when a vehicle begins to back up? Time will tell.


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Hybrids – Do People Understand Them?

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VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) panelists responded to a survey concerning what people really understand about Hybrid-powered vehicles. The conjecture has been that folks are really pumped about Hybrids because of the Toyota Prius and the outstanding public relations and advertising job being done by Toyota but that they don’t understand what a Hybrid is.
In research projects conducted by VehicleVoice partner AutoPacific, people say that they want a hybrid, but clearly they have not known why. Hybrids are the newest, coolest auto technology and they want it. When forced to do the arithmetic, it finally dawns on them that it will take years for a Hybrid to pay for itself in terms of fuel cost savings (since the Hybrid cost is appreciably more, you have to save a lot on gasoline to make the arithmetic work). Of course, in some places you can now drive a Hybrid in a HOV/carpool lane with only one person in the car.
VehicleVoice Panelists Weigh In With their Opinions on Hybrids
The VehicleVoice survey asked the panelists to compare gasoline engines, diesel engines and Hybrids in eleven categories. Hybrids were perceived to be “best for the environment”, “most technologically advanced”, “gets best fuel economy”, “most expensive to buy” and “has the most positive image”.


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