Automakers Find Mixed Results With Large Luxury Hybrids


Bigger isn’t always better, as some automakers are finding out. Consumers are by-and-large avoiding large hybrid sedans and SUVs, which in turn has led automakers to stop offering them. So even though these vehicles offer some of the best MPG gains over their conventional counterparts, buyers don’t want them. How come?

One of the most glaring examples is the Cadillac Escalade, which gets an all-new model this fall, but sans the unpopular hybrid option. In fact, GM only managed to move about 1,200 hybrid-equipped SUVs in 2013, less than half the number sold in 2012, a staggering drop-off, though the choice to discontinue the hybrid model was likely made even earlier in the development of the next-gen, 2014 Escalade.

It’s a puzzling situation to be sure, as the Escalade Hybrid offered a 31% MPG improvement in city driving over the standard model, from 16 MPG combined to 21 MPG combined. The difference was especially evident in city driving, which jumped from 14 to 20 MPG on the hybrid model…but apparently Escalade buyers don’t really care for MPGs, at least not at the price point GM is offering.

It isn’t just GM or hybrid SUVs that are suffering either though; Less than 1% of the Lexus LS sedans sold last month were purchased with the hybrid drivetrain, though over at Infiniti, about 10% of QX60 SUV buyers purchase the hybrid option. Why? Because the performance of the hybrid model is similar to that of the conventional drivetrain, leaving little precievable difference. Meanwhile though, sales of the $75,000 Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid are failing to meet even GM’s humble expectations, while the Tesla Model S claims a large swath of luxury car sales. It’s a mixed bag of success and failure, and it seems that large luxury car buyers aren’t as concerned with fuel economy as us average folk, with cost and performance carrying more weight than mere MPGs.

Many of the aforementioned hybrids carried either a huge price premium, or performance compromise. The Lexus LS hybrid model starts at $120,000, compared to just over $72,000 for a “base” LS with less horsepower but similar fuel economy ratings. The 2013 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid carried a MSRP of over $75,000, $11,000 more than the “base” Escalade model. While the  Mercedes S-Class starts at $92,900 with a conventional drivetrain, and just over $93,000 for the hybrid model, the S-Class Hybrid made due with just 295 horsepower, less than any other S-Class  model save the even-more-efficient BlueTec diesel.

Don’t be discouraged though, as luxury automakers seem ready to embrace plug-in hybrids over series or parallel hybrid drivetrains. Mercedes dropped the S-Class Hybrid, but will replaced it with a plug-in hybrid model, and the Audi A6 e-tron debuting in China is one of the first steps towards an entirely hybridized Audi lineup. One need look no farther than Porsche to see that large luxury hybrids have plenty of life left, though it seems the underpowered or overpriced efforts are falling by the wayside. And of course let’s not discount the effect of the Tesla Model S on the green car market, a car that most certainly qualifies as large, luxury, and green.

Are large hybrid vehicles dead? Not by a long shot. Quite contrary, there are so many larger luxury green car options out there that consumers are naturally gravitating towards the best vehicles, and that doesn’t always mean the best MPG.

Source: USA Today

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.