Who's the real leader in hybrid technology?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jul 01, 2009

Dear Tom and Ray:

Who is the real leader in hybrid technology? The last time I went into a Toyota dealership, the salesman told me that Toyota had just sold its first-generation hybrid technology to Ford because Toyota has developed its second generation. The implication is that Ford will never be able to catch Toyota. From your examination of hybrids, does this appear to be the case? Is Ford technologically remedial?

-- Bruce

RAY: Well, I think it's only fair to give Toyota credit for being the hybrid leader right now. It was the first car company to develop and sell a large number of hybrids to otherwise gas-guzzling Americans.

TOM: The third-generation Prius is out now, and again, it's even better than the last version. Not only does it get 50 miles per gallon in the city, but it's also a roomy, seemingly reliable car with very few downsides.

RAY: That said, there's nothing remedial about what Ford is doing. What we've heard (and remember, we're only slightly more trustworthy than your car dealer, Bruce) is that Ford developed its own hybrid technology, but that it was similar enough to Toyota that Ford opted to make a licensing deal with Toyota, rather than risk being sued for patent violations.

TOM: Or, Ford stole Toyota's technology and got caught!

RAY: Anyway, now Ford has its second generation of hybrids out, and the Ford Fusion Hybrid midsize sedan gets an impressive 41 miles per gallon in the city. By comparison, the latest, comparably sized Toyota Camry Hybrid gets only 33.

TOM: We're not saying this to denigrate Toyota. It'll certainly view the Fusion's city mileage as a challenge. But Ford is hardly a laggard these days. And I wouldn't hesitate to buy a hybrid from either company.

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