Before Americans purchase EVs en masse, they’ll flock to another type of alternative energy vehicle: the hybrid crossover. That segment has fielded several models since its inception in the mid 2000s, but it never broke out of its niche status until the redesigned Rav4 arrived last year. There’s several reasons for that, but as of right now, global events have most certainly put a damper on every automaker’s hybrid vehicle aspirations.
That being said, hybrid crossovers will eventually become popular. It’s now a matter of when, not if.
Toyota got a jump on the hybrid crossover market with their Rav4 Hybrid. Introduced in 2015, the model performed reasonably well until last year, when sales skyrocketed. Customers flocked to the new model as soon as it arrived at dealers and Toyota finished 2019 with just over 92,000 examples sold. The Japanese automaker’s other hybrids also did well last year, but none of them remotely approached the Rav4’s figure.
Other automakers have introduced or are planning to introduce hybrid crossovers of their own. Ford reintroduced the Escape Hybrid last December and Honda debuted the first-ever CR-V Hybrid in March. Those models will likely compete against more hybrid crossovers in just a few short years:
“Hyundai sells a hybrid Tucson in Europe. The next-generation version of the compact crossover is likely to include a hybrid variant for the U.S. Kia’s next Sportage should follow suit at some point. And the discontinued Nissan Rogue Hybrid is expected to make a reprise when the Rogue lineup enters its next generation.”
Obviously, there is a huge wrench that just got thrown into the industry’s plans. The global pandemic destroyed any sense of normalcy for everyone. Additionally, cratering demand combined with squabbling among some oil producing nations has brought down the price of oil to levels not seen since the early 2000s. Five or ten years ago that might have doomed the segment before it got off to a decent start, but several factors most likely ensure that hybrids of all shapes and sizes, especially crossovers, are here to not only survive, but thrive.
For hybrid crossovers, the most important aspect to their staying power also impacted their gasoline counterparts. The previous generation of compact crossovers, introduced around 2013, essentially achieved parity with similarly priced mid-size sedans in several key areas, most notably refinement. Automakers only further enhanced their products with the newest models. Advancements in battery technology also allowed the industry to stick hybrid batteries underneath the floors of their respective vehicles. This has resulted in little to no compromises in cargo or passenger space.
The latest crop of hybrids come baked in with another advantage: oftentimes they’re the best powertrain option available. If you read or watch reviews from all sorts of media outlets, they’ll often state that hybrids are the ones to covet, regardless of fuel efficiency. That’s due to their overall smoother operation under electric power, which happens more often in newer models. And most hybrids can cruise solely with the electric motor at speeds up to 85mph.
Honda’s two motor hybrid system makes things even more interesting by limiting the internal combustion engine to speeds above 40 mph. Additionally, the clutch that directly connects the 2.0 liter four cylinder engine to the front wheels is only designed to kick in at very high speeds. Which basically means Honda’s two motor system, under light and moderate demand and without any transmission whatsoever, drives and operates like an EV most of the time, without needing to be plugged in.
EV-like behavior, in terms of instant torque and quieter NVH, is supplemented by the combined horsepower of the latest hybrids, as they all offer more power than the base level gasoline engines in their respective lineups. And they’re not as expensive as they used to be either. In the hybrid crossover segment, an all-wheel-drive model is only about $1,000 more expensive than their gasoline equivalents.
Whenever the industry bounces back from the current crisis, the new crop of hybrid crossovers will be there to offer much more than increased gas mileage. Much like the gasoline crossovers introduced in the early 2010s, these new models are essentially no compromise vehicles with a lot to offer. It’s safe to say that by the end of the decade, they will rise far above their current niche status.