People aren’t buying hybrid vehicles – but they should

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In 2019, the country’s number one car brand made a bold move. For the first time ever, Toyota Motor Philippines brought in a hybrid version of the Corolla Altis – a variant that has existed in the global Corolla lineup since 2012. With a formidable nameplate backing up a relatively new technology in the country, TMP was going for the obvious: it wanted people to buy hybrid cars.

And TMP wasn’t so subtle about this business move. It deliberately announced during the Corolla Altis Hybrid’s launch that it was indeed pushing for people to buy its electrified models. This was while the world is currently in a paradigm shift of electrification – a time wherein EVs are proliferating in each manufacturer’s lineup, all in an attempt to curb the adverse effects of fossil fuel-powered cars. Since electric vehicles aren’t feasible yet in our country due to the lack of infrastructures to support the cause, TMP goes for the interim solution of unplugged electrified models. That’s a bright move, I should say.

More mainstream than before

Even brighter is the fact that the Corolla Altis Hybrid was priced competitively against its gasoline-powered rivals, making it more mainstream when compared to the first hybrid Toyota here, the Prius. In fact, the Corolla Altis Hybrid was and is more affordable than the Honda Civic RS Turbo by at least P28,000. That alone should have enticed buyers to consider the Corolla Altis Hybrid.

But people aren’t hopping onto the hybrid hype train – at least not as much as we and TMP expected them to. Since its launch in September 2019, TMP only sold around 200 units of the Corolla Altis Hybrid up to the time of this writing. That’s a measly 16 units monthly on average, a far cry from the company’s top nameplates that sell like hotcakes.

The Corolla Cross Hybrid, which debuted in the Philippines in August 2020, has sold close to 50 units as I write this story. That’s a better number, showing that high-riding crossovers are really the more profitable segment.

Battery-phobia?

But what’s hindering people from buying a hybrid vehicle? The answer, of course, is with what’s new in the Corolla Altis Hybrid. Despite the promise of better fuel efficiency, the thought of having an extra set of mechanicals to maintain, such as the electric motor and the battery underneath the rear seats, surely adds doubt to the uninitiated car buyer. I couldn’t count the number of times I saw an uninformed netizen dismiss a social media post about hybrids, saying that a hybrid’s battery replacement would cost an arm and a leg.

That may be true, but remember that these batteries are only due for replacement after a near-decade of ownership. And that where the problem lies.

Filipinos are sentimental about their cars, so much so that car ownership in the Philippines extends up to decades. That’s why old vehicles are still on the road today. That’s why old school is cool. That’s why vehicle phase-out isn’t a thing here.

And that’s why owning a vehicle with a projected massive maintenance cost down its lifetime, isn’t an attractive proposition at all.

Obvious advantages of hybrid cars

We can’t change your mindset about vehicle ownership. That’s a different topic altogether and a discussion that will spark some debate. But what we can do is to enlighten you with the obvious advantages of hybrid vehicles based on our experience: fuel efficiency.

Fuel efficiency. That’s the key messaging of hybrid cars. They still have gasoline-powered engines underneath the hood, sure. But the presence of an electric motor reduces the usage of fuel, ergo, increasing fuel efficiency at a substantial rate.

And when I say substantial, I am not exaggerating at all. In my test last year, before the pandemic set in, I was able to clock in 14.2 km/L with the Corolla Altis Hybrid. And that’s amid heavy EDSA traffic, crawling from Makati to Quezon City deep in the afternoon. That’s pretty impressive, considering that massive 7-seater diesel SUVs average around the same consumption on the highway.

It isn’t just the Corolla Altis Hybrid. I reviewed the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid before, and it clocked in similar results in fuel economy. While both the Corolla and Ioniq have conventional hybrid systems that don’t need to be plugged to charge, the new plug-in hybrid electric vehicles consume even less fuel with their pure electric range.

And of course, less fuel consumed, less harmful emissions. Something that the future generations will benefit from.

More hybrid cars on Philippine shores

If you ask us five years ago what are the hybrid vehicles you can buy in the Philippines, the answer would come from Toyota and its luxury arm, Lexus. The Toyota Prius is one of the first to arrive on our shores with an electric motor, while the Lexus lineup has been offered with hybrid variants.

These days, however, you’ll find more items on the hybrid menu. Apart from the aforementioned Hyundai Ioniq, brands like BYD, BMW, Volvo, Jaguar, and Land Rover have either hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or even full-blown EVs. Chery also offers its Arrizo 5e, although it’s by indent order only. Mitsubishi, on the other hand, has officially announced the Outlander PHEV as part of its lineup, while Geely has the Azkarra and its mild-hybrid offering.

Honestly, there are more than a handful of choices out there if you want a hybrid vehicle but the problem isn’t about the scarcity of options. It’s the car buyers’ mindset and we’ll be fooling ourselves to think that this will change soon. If the country’s number one car brand isn’t finding success with its hybrid push, what more with the others? 

Despite that, we’re still hoping for the best. If a full EV push isn’t feasible at this time because of this government’s apparent lack of support, hybrid vehicles are the way to go, especially in reducing our country’s carbon footprint.

And while you’ve already spent your time reading up to this point, you might as well begin researching and learning about hybrid vehicles on your own.

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