With gas above $4 a gallon, hybrid cars are hotter than a laptop battery. But is gas-electric propulsion the future of personal transportation? It's definitely on the fast track. Federal forecasters predict hybrid sales could approach 2 million vehicles by 2013, accounting for 11 percent of the total U.S. auto market, up from 2.5 percent today. By then, we'll have 89 hybrid models from which to choose (including the hot little Honda pictured), up from 16 today.
But one well-respected forecaster, J.D. Power and Associates, sees another technology overtaking hybrids: diesel engines. That's right, those clanky motors powering big rigs. Why? Carmakers are developing smooth-running clean diesels that get up to 30 percent better mileage than gasoline engines. And the diesel option is cheaper—$2,000 to $3,000—than paying the extra $4,500 hybrids cost over conventional cars. Still, with diesel fuel now 17 percent more costly than gas, most forecasters see a hybrid in your future. By midcentury, the Feds predict, hybrids you can plug into your wall outlet will control half the market, outselling diesels two to one. "Higher diesel prices create the perception that it is not a stable alternative," says Argonne Labs auto expert Don Hillebrand. And that will drive us to go hybrid.