For the first time ever, consumers will be able to buy a hybrid version of a popular car model — the much-beloved Honda Civic. Environmentalists, industry analysts, and even other automakers say that consumer response to the 2003 Honda Civic gas-electric hybrid, which gets about 51 miles to the gallon at highway speeds and recharges its battery while braking, could determine the future of hybrids in the U.S. It could also shift the high-efficiency auto market toward Asian companies, because the Bush administration has turned its attention away from increasing fuel efficiency in the short term and toward developing cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells, a technology that won’t be available any time soon. The hybrid Honda Civic, by contrast, will be on the lots this spring. In the meantime, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is drafting a bill this week to mandate an increase in the average fuel efficiency of cars and light trucks to 37 miles per gallon by 2014, up 13 mpg from the standards established 26 years ago.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.