Petrol-electric hybrid cars are catching on with movie stars, former pop stars and elected officials, says USA Today.

Celebrity owners of either the Honda Insight two-door, two-seat coupe or the four-door Toyota Prius sedan include pop music star Donny Osmond, actor Anthony Hopkins, social activist and former screen star Jane Fonda and film and TV temptress Donna Mills.

Then there are the business leaders and elected officials such as Kirk Watson, the mayor of Austin, Texas, who liked his Insight so much, he bought a few for the city; the skincare and nutrition seller Shaklee's CEO Bob Schults who was so impressed by his Prius, he now buys them for high-performing distributors, and House Representative Connie Morella, a Republican from Maryland who is one of a number of Capitol Hill incumbents keen to be seen driving a 'green' car.

The Honda Insight

USA Today says that the famous and powerful have adopted hybrids, giving them the stamp of approval that electric cars never had.

"It's wonderful not to have to plug it in," Morella said of her new Toyota Prius to the newspaper.

Not only does the petrol engine recharge the electric motor's batteries as needed, but the car also "gets good gasoline mileage, is roomy and it's fun."

It's a complete contrast to the electric car she used as a campaign gimmick in the 1970s: "There were a couple of instances where I ran out of power, and I had to push it to a house and ask to use their power to plug it in and recharge."

Amazingly, USA Today said, even oil companies, who'd sell less petrol if hybrids really catch on, like them.

"These cars will fill a lot of consumer demand starting in a couple of years, and their popularity will be significant," said William Wicker, senior vice president at Texaco and president of the unit that includes alternative fuels.

Unlike electric cars, hybrids "offer the convenience the consumer is used to: quick starts, filling up occasionally at the gasoline pump. No dramatic changes," Wicker said.

USA Today said that Senator Robert Bennett, a conservative Republican from Utah, bought an Insight on July 4, attracted by its technology more than its economy. "I've been chairman of the Republican high-tech task force" and "became intrigued with the technological breakthrough this represents," he told the newspaper.

The Toyota Prius

The hybrid powerplant "is absolutely transparent. You have no idea whether the battery is assisting or charging," he said.

After Austin mayor Watson swapped a Chevrolet Tahoe SUV for an Insight late last summer, he and another city official put several of the Hondas and a Prius onto the municipal vehicle pool to "see how they hold up and what place they have in our light-duty fleet," he says.

He told USA Today that he sees hybrids as a way to improve Austin's air quality which is bad enough that it barely skirts trouble under the federal Clean Air Act.

USA Today said that, in addition to fuel economy, hybrids' selling point is that motorists needn't change their habits.

"You don't have to learn anything, do anything different. You go to the gas station and put gas in," Robert Stempel, chairman of Energy Conversion Devices (ECD) in Troy, Michigan, and a former GM chief executive, told the newspaper.

"The only thing you notice is that your mileage is higher, and the tailpipe exhaust is cleaner."

"Hybrids could give us the attitude to accept hydrogen and some other things," said Osmond, who got interested in hydrogen power 15 years ago, then dabbled in electric cars, but found both impractical.

Hybrids, in contrast, are "a no-brainer," he told USA Today. "You forget the electric part."


To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

Toyota (inc Daihatsu) Strategic Review

Honda Strategic Review

Global Car Forecasts to 2005