Thursday, March 20, 2008


I know it has been a while since my last post, but the subject matter of this entry has taken a lot of research and reading.  This entry is in response to a question Sheila, author of JUST ANOTHER HOOKER, asked if the newer hybrid vehicles could operate as efficiently as they say using ethanol.  That’s a great question since it’s a known fact that a vehicle’s fuel efficiency drops when ethanol is used as compared to pure gasoline.  Thanks for your question, Sheila!  I’ll try to answer it as completely as possible.  While on the subject, I’ll also discuss the real (hidden) costs of hybrid vehicles.


In answer to Sheila’s question, the only thing I could find was a report by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Air Pollution Control Division, released in September 2007 entitled HYBRID, E85, AND GASOLINE VEHICLES IN GOVERNMENT FLEETS.  While it did not specifically mention hybrids, it stated that the fuel economy on “most 2008 model year vehicles” was estimated to drop about twelve percent in fuel economy for city driving and about eight percent for highway driving. This estimate was reported by the Environmental Protection Agency.  Since the EPA’s report included “most 2008 model year vehicles”, I would assume the same held true for hybrids.  Since a hybrid uses a gasoline engine for speeds above about twenty-five miles per hour, then it would follow the fuel efficiency would be lower with ethanol than 100% gasoline.  I think the reason for the difficulty in finding data to answer this question is because hybrids have not been around long enough for extensive research to be done.  I hope this answered your question, Sheila.  Thanks again for the great question!


I’ll now move on to the hidden costs of hybrids.  First, for those who may not know, a brief definition of a hybrid is a vehicle that uses an electric motor part-time in combination with a gasoline engine.  There are a couple of different types of hybrids, but I won’t go into it here.  Basically, the most common hybrids we see advertised use the electric motor at speeds below about twenty-five miles per hour.  When the vehicle exceeds that speed, the gasoline engine starts and powers the vehicle.  This results in a much higher fuel economy in city driving which is where most of us do the majority of our driving.  This is a VERY basic definition of a hybrid, and there’s more to how it works.  For the purpose of this post, the details are not important.  The fuel economy of this type of vehicle is commonly around forty to forty-five miles per gallon.  The city mileage is lower than highway on standard vehicles, but the fuel mileage on a hybrid is actually higher in the city than it’s highway mileage.


The first and foremost cost of owning a hybrid is buying one.  According to CARSEEK, a hybrid generally costs anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 more than a conventional car.  The Federal income tax deduction doesn’t exactly cover this – up to $2,000.  It would take quite some time to start realizing any savings.  How long could you keep your current vehicle in gas for even the low end of $3,000?  Even at today’s prices, a good while.  The reality is, though, that many people will buy them simply for the increase in fuel economy.  A purchase price of $20,000 will keep what you have in gas for a very long time.  It’s definitely a false economy to buy another car for more gas mileage alone.  An article in CONSUMER REPORTS said that their figures showed that “even the most cost-effective models require an investment of about five years for the owner to break even.”


One of the costs of a hybrid vehicle is battery replacement.  Hybrids have a number of batteries.  To have a hybrid, you have to give up some trunk space to make room for the load of batteries.  If you keep the car rather than trade every couple of years, sooner or later, you’ll have to replace them.  Or if something goes wrong with the charging system to decrease their life.  Cost of replacement?  Around $3,000 to $4,000.  Manufacturer’s state that the battery packs should last the life of the vehicle.  My point is, it’s man-made and therefore can fail.  Manufacturer’s also state that the failure rate of the battery packs has been low.  Personally, I wouldn’t want to be in that “low” category.  If I were one of those that had a battery pack failure, I wouldn’t care at all about how good the statistics were and how small a percentage had to be replaced.


Another question is the additional energy it takes to build a more technologically advanced car and whether or not it outweighs the benefits of the higher fuel economy.  The mechanism in a hybrid is quite complex.  There are also some questions about the negative environmental impact of the manufacturing of hybrids as compared to conventional cars.  A report from an extensive research project by CNW Marketing Research, Inc. entitled DUST TO DUST indicates that the overall energy cost of a HONDA ACCORD HYBRID  is $3.29 per mile as compared to the HUMMER H3 at $1.949 per mile.  This two year project covers the entire energy expenditure of planning, building, use, and disposing of specific vehicle models.  It also factored in the distance the plant employees drove to work, electricity usage at car dealerships, and hundreds of other variables.


Personally I don’t think hybrid vehicles are going to make any more of a difference in reducing our oil imports than ethanol will.  More fuel efficient vehicles have not reduced our dependence on foreign oil over the past thirty-five years.  Federal law has mandated increases in fuel efficiency through the CORPORATE AVERAGE FUEL ECONOMY (CAFÉ) standards.  One reason is that people will drive further for vacationing, for example, with a fuel efficient car than they they will a less efficient vehicle.  People figure that they can go places they couldn’t go before for the same cost as driving shorter distances in a less efficient car.  I’m one of those people!  My 1994 FORD EXPLORER  gets thirty miles per gallon at fifty-five miles per hour, and twenty-three to twenty-four miles per gallon in town.  Even at seventy miles per hour, it achieves the city mileage.  After I bought it and discovered this little secret, you better believe I went some places I couldn’t go before!!


The bottom line to all this is that you can’t conserve your way out of a problem.  We’ve been trying it for years and it hasn’t worked.  The only answer is to increase production.  Increasing the production RIGHT HERE in the United States is the answer to decreasing our dependence on foreign oil.  That would mean doing away with a lot of Federal regulations that have made it too expensive to build more refineries here and blocked not only the exploration for more oil, but prevented getting what we already know about.  I don’t believe that will happen in mine or your lifetime.  When was the last time you remember our government reducing regulations on anything??  






wipforever said...

Gosh, I feel like I was put on the spot!  LOL!  Thank you for answering my question, Dirk.  I really appreciate it.

In a time where I am in financial dire straits (as I'm sure others are too), I am starting to look for things that are cost effective.  My Jeep Cherokee won't last forever, so what will the next vehicle be?  Knock on wood I'll have time to research options before anything happens.

I think you are right about the dependence on foreign oil.  It will always be - at least in our lifetimes.  My father is all for government drilling in Alaska, but I have mixed feelings on it.  How badly will it hurt the wildlife?  On the flipside, will the wildlife die out anyhow due to global warming even if we don't drill?  

Thank you again for yet another informative entry!

Take care!

wwfbison said...

I consider myself environmentally conscience and look forward to the day we are less dependent upon oil but I don't see a hybrid in my future.  For all purposes my diesel truck should last me a very long time, (stastically anyway) without the need for replacement until around 200K miles.  It is an 05' and we are still under 50K miles.  I don't know the long term life of a hybrid but with the additional up front cost, the possibility of a huge expense with the batteries and the fact that over 25 mph it converts to gas...well it doesn't work for me.  I don't know that on my drives I am under 25mp more than a mile or so anyway so I would be using gas anyway.  

I am upset the cost of diesel in rising daily, literally.  It is now at $4.35 a gallon - a complete fill up is about $105.00.  That is a big chunk of change to put into a gas tank! I get about 17 mpg average.  I am hoping the longevity of the truck outweighs the high price of diesel & the additional few thousand up front for the diesel engine.

Do you know why diesel fuel is so much more expensive than regular gas?  Historically diesel has always been lower than gas....until I bought one :( so I am baffled by the fact it is so much higher now.

Sorry I got off track, your entry was very interesting & informative.  Happy Easter to you & the family.

lifesabench6 said...

Excellent Work Dirk!  I agree, not only about hybrids, but smaller more so called economical cars in general- I don't get near the milage in my PT Cruiser that I did in myJeep.  I miss my Jeep!  It had more room too- especially miss it on grocery day when I load up my families groceries and my mom inlaw comes too.  It's pretty cramped on the way home ;-)  Only reason I bought the Cruiser was I couldn't afford the newer Jeeps. The Cruiser is cute and fun, and cheaper, but not as practical, nor as fuel efficiant either.  Thank you for another excellently investigated post! God BLess and have a wonderful Easter!  Carolyn

alohamik said...

Of course I'm one of those wacky righties that believes in drilling in Alaska (where we have already made sure we're going to not bother the wildlife habitat)... and I think we should drop the ethanol and allow corn and wheat industries to come back in this country... I know I'm radical in this train of thought. But the gov't desire for us to use ethanol, has driven the cost of food up the wa-zoo... grrrrrr


hatikvahashem said...

I really enjoyed your article, i work in a bodyshop and i've seen a lot of stuff come and go some i liked some i glad are gone these hybrids are dangerous to word on and i don't think they'll be around that long.Heres a web site about fuel that looks interesting. Just got it last nite haven't really checked it out. See what ya'll think..  Shalom.. Todd M.

ma24179 said...

Happy Easter. -Missy

queeniemart said...

the average person working for $10 to $15 an hour in the U.S. can NOT afford to buy a $2000 battery. I mean, seriously. That is an absurd amount to pay for a battery of a hybrid. You would think these companies would make a car that the AVERAGE working person could afford not only the monthly payments on but also the upkeep. It just gets harder and harder to do the RIGHT thing if you ask me as far as what to drive and how to save money and help the envirnoment.

gehi6 said...

I am very impressed with your presentation of the hybrid.  I now understand it a lot better than I did before, despite the fact that I have aged myself out of car ownership, but I can read it and try to understand what my kids and grandkids will be facing with all the fuel problems!  Gerry  

gehi6 said...

I am concerned about this issue because of having had long distance truck drivers in the family and I am wondering what the high price of diesel is going to mean in all the prices of the products dependent on the trucks to reach the market.  Prices are going to go up and up in every direction!  So this is alarming.  I, for one, did not realize that diesel had risen above gasoline prices.  Imagine filling up an 18 wheeler now days.  We had two wrecks last night of 18 wheelers, one of which caused a 6 car wreck.  So much more expensive now.  The total cost of an 18 wheeler out of commission on the highway.  Again you have stated the problem very clearly.  Thanks a lot of such a lucid discussion of what this rise in price might actually lead to!  Gerry