The Hybrid Buzz

With larger, business-task-friendly hybrids hitting the road, it's time to take a closer look at these fuel-efficient vehicles.

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With larger, business-task-friendly hybrids hitting the road, it's time to take a closer look at these fuel-efficient vehicles.

Along with the Ford Escape and two full-size pickups-Chevrolet's Silverado and GMC's Sierra-three hybrids-powered trucks will hit auto salesrooms in spring 2005: the Lexus RX400h, Toyota's Highlander and the Dodge Ram.

The compact Escape is the first SUV to employ the gasoline/electric-powered engine, and sales are sizzling. The technology uses a standard combustion gas engine teamed with an electric motor to increase fuel mileage. While driving, the electric motor is recharged by the gas engine, so you don't need to plug it in. A benefit for traveling businesspeople is the hybrid built-in generator's 110-volt outlet.

In 2006 and onward, the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon SUVs will adapt GM's Allison bus hybrid technology for greater power, performance and fuel economy. When Dodge introduces its Ram hybrid, the electric motor will be paired with a Cummins diesel engine, and entrepreneurs who travel with a portable generator can use their Ram power on job sites.

Several other manufacturers have hybrids on the drawing board and close to development.

Hybrids are currently averaging from $1,500 to $2,000 more than standard models, and some dealers are slapping on even higher prices for the coveted vehicles. The bottom line, of course, is fuel economy. What are the savings? Depends on the weight of the vehicle and how much cargo and people you carry. On the Silverado and Sierra, gas mileage is from 10 to 12 percent better than non-hybrid models. The Escape achieves 36 mpg, compared to 18 mpg for the non-hybrid version.

Jill Amadio is Entrepreneur's "Wheels" columnist.

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