Why hybrids? (I mean the cars, not the bicycles.)

Posted: November 22, 2005 in Being Green

Hybrid cars are becoming more popular (OK, that’s a bit of an understatement) and I’m all for it. Yesterday (Nov. 21, 2005), the Los Angeles Times ran an article about hybrids in the business section. They note:

American automakers are launching hybrid versions of those vehicles to remain competitive in the areas where they are most profitable, said Anthony Pratt, an analyst who covers hybrids for J.D. Power & Associates in Westlake Village. It’s cheaper to modify an existing model than to build a new one, and SUVs have more room for adding hybrid components than sedans, he said.

To attract drivers looking for large and luxurious vehicles, automakers such as Lexus and General Motors Corp. are building hybrids with the look and size of regular cars. The focus on performance sacrifices some of the efficiency that got hybrids noticed in the first place.

Environmentalists say automakers are squandering fuel-scrimping technology that reduces air pollution as well as the nation’s reliance on foreign oil.

“Consumers are enthralled by hybrids because they sip gas and don’t guzzle it, and they pollute less,” said Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club’s global warming program. “So if you have a hybrid that guzzles and doesn’t pollute less, then what are you doing?”

Though sales of large SUVs have taken a hit, luxury and mid-size SUVs continue to do well.

Automakers say gas guzzlers also have the most room for improvement. But some hybrids barely get better mileage than their non-hybrid counterparts.

Take the hybrid Chevrolet Silverado, which gets the same 19 miles per gallon on the highway as a regular Silverado. On city streets it gets 17 mpg, 2 mpg more than the non-hybrid.

The Silverado is among six hybrids available from or being designed by GM, the world’s largest automaker. All but one are SUVs or trucks.

GM says small improvements make a big difference.

Upping an SUV’s performance from 10 mpg to 11 mpg will save 109 gallons of gasoline every 12,000 miles. That’s more than the 100 gallons saved over the same distance by lifting a sedan’s fuel economy from 30 to 40 mpg.

The reason for the greater fuel savings in an SUV is that the SUV uses so much more fuel than a sedan does. The 11-mpg SUV needs 1,091 gallons to go 12,000 miles; the 40-mpg sedan needs only 300 gallons.

An estimated 220,000 hybrids will be sold in the U.S. this year, about 1.3% of the market, according to J.D. Power. That’s a major jump from last year, when 87,000 hybrids accounted for 0.5% of car sales.

I am a bit irritated at either the true feelings of the “environmentalists” or the way the article characterizes them. Any implementation of hybrid technology into any vehicle is a win. The effect of the initial implementation is not nearly as important as the implementation itself.

Look at emission controls. Initially they caused significant fuel economy and horsepower hits. Now engines gasoline engines are cleaner than ever without needing all of the “contraptions” of the initial implementation. Technological evolution and breakthrough combined with economic and consumer forces have moved us to having clean engines and (relatively speaking) good fuel economy.

Another point is further reductions in pollution from hybrid technology. As an avid cyclist, I am frequently exposed to exhaust fumes — especially while waiting at an intersection. Numbers of cars sitting still with their engines idling produce exhaust emission while sitting still. Hybrids allow these engines to shut down while the vehicle is stationary. I see this as one of the biggest advantages of hybrid vehicles, yet almost no one talks about it.

So, bring on the hybrids, even if they are large, lumbering SUVs or trucks. The world will be better with more hybrid technology in any vehicle.

BTW, we are a two-Prius family.

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