In the most sweeping endorsement of hybrid vehicles by any large vehicle manufacturer, Jim Press, vice chairman and president of Chrysler LLC, announced in New York last week that every single new Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep is being engineered so that it can be adapted for a hybrid powertrain. This represents a huge reversal by mainstream manufacturers in their attitude to hybrids.

The Fisker Karma

The Fisker Karma

One major breakthrough is the replacement of nickel-metal-hydride batteries, as used in the Toyota Prius, with lithium ion batteries. Last week Mercedes Benz announced that it will use lithium ion batteries in its upcoming S-class hybrid due to go on sale in Europe in mid-2009. This is the first announcement of a mainstream production model powered by lithium-ion batteries.

General Motors has also announced that it will use lithium-ion batteries in the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid which will be on the market in 2010 and in in its next generation of hybrids, due in 2012 in the US.

Meanwhile, Th!nk Electric is already manufacturing a tiny two-seat electric car in Norway and has plans to release a full-size five-seater by 2011.

China’s BYD Auto has announced plans to start selling an electric-hybrid in China this year and in Europe by 2010. BYD was set up in 2003. It sold 100,000 cars in its first 18 months and now has the capacity to produce 300,000 vehicles a year. It expects to become China’s largest manufacturer by 2015 and claims that its expertise in batteries will enable it to compete successfully with General Motors and Toyota.

And for the exotic sports car enthusiasts, at the Geneva Motor Show, Fisker Automotive has launched the Fisker Karma a four-door plug-in hybrid using a lithium ion battery pack and small petrol engine which the manufacturers claim can be driven for 80 kilometers a day for a year on one tank of petrol (with overnight recharging of the battery). Henrik Fisker, the chief executive of Fisker Automotive, designed the Aston Martin DB9 and BMW Z8. The premium sports sedan will have a starting price of approximately £55,000 in the UK with initial deliveries to commence towards the end of 2009 and annual production projected to reach 15,000 cars. The car is already sold out for 2009.