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Bankrate's 2008 Car Guide
Going green
Saving cash while saving the planet is great but is it cost-effective and the right move for you?
Green is beautiful
Number of hybrid choices soars

When they debuted nearly a decade ago, hybrids came in two flavors -- Toyota and Honda.

And while the Prius and Insight went a long way toward selling car buyers on the virtue of combining gasoline engines with electric motors, most Americans still opted for big -- SUVs, that is.

Poll results: Interest on hybrids


Then came tax credits, high gas prices and consumer demand.

Now nearly everyone who visits a showroom knows something about hybrid gas-electric drive, and automakers are offering hybrids in most every type of vehicle. Watch related video

The hybrid-car market has matured.

Hybrid choices
Cadillac Escalade Lexus RX 400h
Chevrolet Malibu Mazda Tribute
Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra Nissan Altima
Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon Saturn Aura
Chrysler Aspen/Dodge Durango Saturn Vue/ Vue 2 Mode Hybrid
Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner Toyota Camry
Honda Civic Toyota Highlander
Lexus GS 450h Toyota Prius
Lexus LS 600h L

So much so that Toyota hybrid buyers -- no matter which hybrid model they choose -- no longer qualify for federal tax credits because the company has sold so many new hybrid models. Honda also hit the sales cap and their credits are being phased out through January 2009.

"But there are a lot of other good hybrid cars out there that didn't make much of a fanfare that still qualify for tax credits," says Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com. "I am thinking of things like the Nissan Altima Hybrid. It competes with the Camry and is a very solid car. It is a large car, gets good mileage and is just very exciting."

SUV and truck lovers also have reason to rejoice at the selection of hybrids available, most of which still qualify for full tax incentives. Some of these sport utility vehicles even combine the standard hybrid technology with engines that selectively idle half of their pistons during highway driving as a way of squeezing even more miles out of every gallon of gas.

But while hybrids have moved from being a political statement to a mainstream option, the technology seems to be in a holding pattern.

"To be brutally honest, there has been nothing new or exciting in hybrid technology in a while," Reed says. "Everyone is holding their breath to see what Toyota has up their sleeve with the '09 Prius."

He says Prius fans are buzzing about the possibility of it being a plug-in hybrid. "Probably not," he says. "But, either way, Toyota is being very secretive about it."

Even without the Holy Grail of the plug-in hybrid becoming commercially available, hybrid shoppers have more options than ever to reduce their emissions while saving hundreds at the pump. There are now at least nine manufacturers turning out some 22 hybrid model choices.

-- Posted: Aug. 4, 2008
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