Toyota Camry Hybrid

Honda Accord Hybrid

Ford Escape Hybrid

Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid

Lexus RX400h
Hybrid tech gets better and cheaper with each generation

Hybrid technology has been on the US auto market since 1999. That year saw the release of Honda's Insight two-seater. While a great proof of concept, it wasn't exactly a practical vehicle for many people. Toyota countered with the first generation Prius in 2000. That little four-door compact sedan is what put hybrid technology on the map and had every "green" celebrity clamoring to buy one.

Since those early years, hybrid technology has progressed nicely. We've seen more powerful electric motors and higher capacity batteries enter the fray. We now have "mild" hybrid options on GM's Silverado and Sierra pickup trucks. Ford has Escape and Mariner hybrid SUVs. Honda still has the Insight along with the Civic and Accord hybrids. Toyota is even pushing what it calls "performance" hybrids in the form of the Highlander Hybrid, RX400h and GS450h.

Honda was the first to introduce a rather normal-looking mid-sized hybrid sedan with its Accord. While the Accord Hybrid promises the fuel economy of a 4-cylinder with better performance than the normal 6-cylinder model, its base price is pushing into entry-level luxury space at $30,990. With a totally revamped 2007 Camry just now hitting the showrooms, Toyota is taking the opportunity to not only go after the Accord's mileage claims, but also undercut it significantly.

While Honda's Accord pairs a brawny V6 with an electric motor to achieve 255HP and 25/34 city/highway numbers, the new Camry Hybrid uses a 147HP 4-cylinder and a 40HP electric motor to achieve mileage ratings of 40/38 city highway. To make an even bolder statement, Toyota priced the Camry Hybrid at $25,900 -- undercutting its chief rival by over $5,000.

What the Camry gives up in power, it more than makes up for in fuel economy. And by pricing it far below Honda's offering, it is opening up the hybrid market to more and more potential buyers. People who maybe felt a little confined by smaller hybrids like the Prius and Civic now have a larger vehicle to set their sights on -- and it's not likely to burst their purse strings either.

As the price of hybrids come down and the mileage figures goes up, we can expect to see more and more people snapping them up. And before you know it, hybrid technology won't seem like just a passing fad.

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer

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