The Truth About Hybrids

Sarah brought up Hybrids today in her comment on my gas taxes post. I had been wanting to post about them for a while so here are a few excerpts from an article written by Bob Elton who, according to the article, is an automotive engineer who, over the last 30 years, has worked for all of the big 3 and a number of suppliers as well. Elton holds a couple of dozen patents, and currently works as a consultant to a major automotive supplier.

While the mileage, environmental and PC advantages of vehicles powered by a gas - electric powerplant seems obvious, how much of this hybrid mania is hype?

The Prius' Synergy Drive looks clean and tidy now, but those big old batteries will eventually pose an environmental risk.

Few people realize that a hybrid's power train adds roughly 10% to the weight of a car. Even fewer realize that manufacturers try to offset the weight penalty-- and add to the hybrid's headline-grabbing mileage figures-- by the extensive use of non-hybrid gas-saving technology. Engine shut-off at idle, electric power steering, harder and reduced rolling resistance tires (at the expense of comfort and traction), reduced option content, reduced engine performance, and, in the case of the Ford, a continuously variable transmission (CVT) all help raise the cars' overall efficiency.

In fact, in normal use, the margin between truly comparable hybrid and non-hybrid cars could be less than 10%-- hardly enough to justify the extra purchase price.

Gas - electric hybrid engines use several large batteries. Creating these power cells requires a couple of hundred pounds of heavy metals-- not to mention the copper used in the large electric drive motors and the heavy wires they require. Mining and smelting lead, copper and other heavy metals is an energy intensive process that generates both air pollution and deforestation. Disposing of the batteries when they outlive their usefulness also raises environmental challenges.

Feel free to read the rest of Bob's article and let me know if it changes your mind about hybrid car technology.. I think that it changed mine a bit. And here is one of Bob's questions that I'll end with:
Like the 1923 Stanley Steamer,
will hybrids also become a historical oddity?
Let me know what you think.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing that article, I am very interested in the topic! I only wish the article had a date on it, so I could know how current the information is. Actually, after reading, I only wanted to learn more (because, truly, if it is all marketing hype and actually not an environmental choice, I want to know). So I searched for other articles. I came across this one that talks in more detail about these concerns:

    And I also believe that high oil consumption is bad for national security as it does fund terrorism. We really are shooting ourselves in the foot there, regardless of the environmental issues surrounding hybrids.

    So for those who don't think that the environment is a serious issue (which I don't think is true of you, I'm just saying 'in general'), but do think national security is important: I think they should seriously evaluate their own oil consumption habits. (Okay, sorry, that sounds preachy. I don't want to sound preachy. But I'm going to say those things anyway, at the risk of sounding preachy.) :)


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