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
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??