What's so Good About Hybrids Anyways? ~ Hybrid Car Review
Hybrid Car Review: What's so Good About Hybrids Anyways?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

What's so Good About Hybrids Anyways?

Whenever I go out looking for what other people are saying about hybrids, I run into the following comments (myths) all of the time.

  1. They're ugly
  2. The money you save won't make up the difference
  3. What's the point? I could get better mileage 20 years ago with my ... Why don't they just make better cars?
So let's deal with these myths and bust them one at a time.

1) They're ugly
This statement comes mostly from those who have no idea the Camry they just passed was a hybrid. The only hybrid they know about is the Prius (or the Insight) and since those were designed from top to bottom for aerodynamics, most people felt they were ugly when they first arrived and got all the press.

Nowadays, hybrids come in all shapes in sizes. From SUV to luxury to sedan, there are so many choices when it comes to hybrids and people just don't know about them. Whether you want to sit up higher (Ford Escape Hybrid or Toyota Highlander Hybrid), more power (Honda Accord Hybrid), better fuel economy without sacrificing looks (Honda Civic Hybrid) or want to go for the best fuel economy (Toyota Prius), there is a hybrid that fits into your life.

2) You'll never make up the extra cost!
This statement is just plain wrong. The latest studies say you will make up the cost. It just takes time, anywhere from 3 to 7 years of ownership. Of course, that all depends on what your 'other' car was going to be.

The biggest savings up front come if you can qualify for the federal tax credit. But there are other cost incentives out there, depending on where you live.

Some states have rebates (PA and CT, for instance), while others give you preferred treatment by opening up the HOV lanes (VA, NY and CA). Some cities and towns are getting into the game as well, offering free parking to anyone driving a hybrid car. Then there's the insurance costs. Some companies are offering 10% discounts to anyone driving a hybrid car. That will make up the difference in the added cost for buying the car.

Also, since there are more hybrid car options and because the federal tax credit has begun phasing out for Toyota, car companies are now offering rebates on their hybrid vehicles. For instance, the Escape Hybrid has had incentives for the past year, while Toyota has started offering rebates of up to $2,000 on the Prius.

3) What's the point?
"Why don't they just make better cars? Why did I get xx mpg 10 or 20 years ago, but now I'm expected to buy a hybrid to do so?" A lot of people feel like the car companies are to blame for the poor performance they get from today's cars, but the truth is we (as consumers) demanded higher safety standards and more comfortable rides. And all those improvements in other areas adversely affected the fuel economy.

Safety systems, sound proofing, fancier sound and entertainment systems and more leg room all adds up to bigger and heavier cars. If you look at the average weight of cars through the years and plot it against the fuel economy, you'll see what I mean.

A few decades ago, when we had the oil crisis, automakers dropped the weights of their cars dramatically, thereby improving the fuel economy. Since then, the weight has been added back on and then some. The added efficiency of engines has kept the fuel economy moving upwards, but not too much, because our focus has been on other areas since then (i.e. size, safety and comfort).

"Well, what about the XXX (Fit, Aveo, Yaris, etc...)?" you might say. "They get great gas mileage." And I'd say, if you feel comfortable driving those small cars, then do so! You'll be saving a great deal of money both on the initial purchase price, insurance rates, taxes and fuel that it would be crazy for you not to do so. But what hybrid engines give you is the ability to go larger and be more comfortable while still getting better fuel economy and lower emissions.

Take a look at the Honda Civic, for instance. Look at the table below from the ACEEE on the top 10 greenest cars. Note how the Civic appears three times on the list.

Greenest Vehicles of 2007

Make and Model Specifications a Emission Standardb MPG: City MPG: Hwy Green Score
HONDA CIVIC GX 1.8L 4, auto [CNG] c Tier 2 bin 2 / PZEV 28 39 57
TOYOTA PRIUS 1.5L 4, auto CVT Tier 2 bin 3 / PZEV 60 51 55
HONDA CIVIC HYBRID 1.3L 4, auto CVT Tier 2 bin 2 / PZEV 49 51 53
TOYOTA YARIS 1.5L 4, manual Tier 2 bin 5 / ULEV II 34 40 47
TOYOTA COROLLA 1.8L 4, manual Tier 2 bin 5 / ULEV II 32 41 46
TOYOTA CAMRY HYBRID 2.4L 4, auto CVT Tier 2 bin 3 / PZEV 40 38 46
HONDA FIT 1.5L 4, manual Tier 2 bin 5 / LEV II 33 38 45
KIA RIO / RIO 5 1.6L 4, manual Tier 2 bin 5 / ULEV II 32 35 45
HYUNDAI ACCENT 1.6L 4, manual Tier 2 bin 5 / ULEV II 32 35 45
HYUNDAI ELANTRA 2.0L 4, auto PZEV 28 36 45
HONDA CIVIC 1.8L 4, auto Tier 2 bin 5 / ULEV II 30 40 44

[CNG] denotes compressed natural gas fuel.
"auto CVT" denotes continuously variable automatic transmission.
Certain other configurations of these models (with different transmissions or meeting different emission standards) score nearly as well.
b A listing with two emission standards (e.g., Tier 2 bin 2/ PZEV) denotes a single vehicle carrying both a Federal and California emission certification. Green Scores for such listings reflect the cleaner of the two certifications.
c Compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicle fuel economy given in gasoline-equivalent miles per gallon.

Now I know most people aren't going to go out and buy a CNG vehicle, so that leaves the Honda Civic and the Honda Civic Hybrid. Note how the Civic Hybrid gets you better gas mileage and a better emissions rating with a smaller gas engine (1.8L vs a 1.3L).

So there you go, you get more for less (gas) than you would with just a gas engine. You can get a bigger car, a more luxurious car, or even an SUV and still get over 30 mpg. That's the point of hybrid technology.

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