If you're keeping score at home, you can mark this week as THE TURNING POINT.
This was the week when the gasoline-electric hybrid was put in its place, back with the rest of the pack.
Yes, Lexus introduced the LS 600h L at the New York auto show. And, yes, it's the swellest vehicle to date in Toyota's cavalcade of hybrids.
And it's also true that a few New York media legends -- some of whom may not have a driver's license, let alone drive a car -- are still going gaga over hybrids. (I've lost count of how many times network TV types have asked me if the reason GM is in trouble is because it doesn't have any hybrids. Really!)
But don't be fooled.
Earlier in the week, the Wall Street Journal became the latest, most influential and sober voice to question the business case for buying a hybrid, based on upfront cost and real-world mileage that doesn't live up to the EPA numbers on the price sticker.
Then, Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn reiterated his view that hybrids don't make good business sense because they are too expensive, though he said Nissan would field an Altima hybrid in California to comply with local regs.
So what's next?
Based on the media and advertising barrage, E-85 is the flavor of the month.
GM and Ford are gung-ho on ethanol and flexible-fuel vehicles. The Chrysler group, which has sold flexible-fuel vehicles to fleet customers for years, will begin selling them to retail customers.
And according to J.D. Power and Associates, diesel will be the flavor of the month after that. Power's forecasting service says the diesel share of U.S. light-vehicle sales is expected to jump from 3.2 percent last year to more than 10 percent by 2015.
Conversely, Power expects hybrids to account for 4.2 percent of the market by 2012.
So while hybrids are by no means nearing the end of the road -- more hybrid models are coming to market -- they are finally getting proper scrutiny. All the effusive publicity about hybrids is way overblown.
For the record, none of this comes as a surprise to Automotive News. Two years ago, we did road tests of the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid that yielded decent mileage but less than the EPA numbers and less than the fuel economy achieved by some gasoline and diesel engines, which generally cost less.
Hybrids are with the pack.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]