European carmakers rolled out some demonstration hybrid-electric vehicles at the Frankfurt Auto Show this week, but only grudgingly. As we've noted, auto manufacturers like Volkswagen and BMW have been dismissive of hybrids, declaring them to be less efficient than diesels and less advanced than planned hydrogen/fuel cell cars. Both of these may well be true -- a good diesel vehicle can get mileage along the same lines as a hybrid, and (under certain conditions) sometimes better -- but demand for hybrids appears to be growing, globally.
The mainly German carmakers discussed in the New York Times article seem to be giving lip-service to building hybrids, but promising no rollouts before 2010. It's pretty clear that they hope that the demand for hybrids dies off before then, an attitude that seems to have much in common with traditional US automaker behavior.
The real difference between diesels and hybrids, from my perspective, isn't which one is more efficient now, but which one has the greater potential for increased fuel efficiency. We know that gas-optional hybrids and other experimental variations are getting mileage the equivalent of about 100 mpg on the relatively heavy Prius frame; are there experimental diesel engines that can make the same general claim?
I think it's a false opposition; there's no reason we couldn't have diesel hybrids.