Tag Archives: Hybrid

Is A Green Car Worth It?

All of you “green energy” advocates will be most interested in these break-even years for coal/nuclear/natural gas powered cars. Based on 15,000 miles of driving per year, the added cost of the fuel-efficient technologies is so high that it would take the average driver many years to save money over comparable new models with conventional internal-combustion engines. Gasoline would have to approach $8 a gallon before many of the cars could be expected to pay off in the six years an average person owns a car. For example, it will take 26.6 years of Chevy Volt ownership to reach break-even versus a Chevy Cruze Eco. For the Nissan Leaf versus the Versa, break-even comes in “only” 8.7 years.

There are, of course, exceptions: the Prius and Lincoln MKZ, and the diesel-powered Volkswagen Jetta TDI. But…

  • The Toyota Prius, with seating for four, is compared to the Toyota Camry, which has seating for five. I don’t know why the Prius was compared to the Camry.
  • The Lincoln MKZ, a luxury sedan that has the same base price of $34,755 for gasoline power or hybrid.
  • The Volkswagen Jetta and Jetta TDI, which is, in its fuel-efficient version, diesel (not electricity) powered.

The added cost of the new technologies is limiting the ability of fuel-efficient cars to gain broader appeal. Hybrid sales have surged more than 60% this year, but they still account for less than 3% of the total market. Plug-in cars represent a very small fraction of sales, with GM even halting production of the Volt in response to less demand than it expected.

According to RL Polk tracking data, only 35% of hybrid vehicle owners purchased another gas-electric model when trading in during 2011. After living with the high-mileage technology, nearly two of three hybrid owners wind up returning to a more conventional vehicle when it’s time to trade in.

Why do some buyers pay more for advanced technology that might not save them money? Many never do the math, analysts say, or they tend to overestimate how much the added miles per gallon translate into actual monetary savings. Others see saving fuel and doing something better for the environment as their ultimate goals, regardless of cost. The Prius, for example, became a success in part because drivers wanted to drive, and be seen driving, a hybrid. Fuel economy has become a social attribute.

Green cars may be environmentally friendly, but they aren’t financially friendly. Most people can’t afford to be environmentally friendly.

BTW, in the accompanying figure, “profit” corresponds to keeping a car longer than its break-even point (with cars, it is in years) so that the extra cost of acquiring fuel efficiency is offset by the fuel cost savings.

But that’s just my opinion.

Hybrid MPG Myths

I recently received an e-mail from Rich Mitchell encouraging CDN contributors to write about subjects other than politics, to “expand our horizons.” So I decided to research and write about a subject in which I have knowledge and about which I know nothing: automobiles. I grew up when muscle cars were king, and I worked as a mechanic to put myself through college. But I’m afraid that technology has passed me by, specifically about hybrids.

On January 22, 2012, while watching the NFL championship games, I was “treated” to some hybrid automobile commercials and what great gasoline mileage they delivered. The commercials got me to thinking (yes, it hurt) and, as a result, I did some research on hybrids. As we all have heard and read, the Chevrolet Volt has been a sales and engineering fiasco. Chevy sold 7,671 Volts in 2011. It was outsold in 2011 by the Nissan Leaf, at 9,674, its main electric car competitor. Further, GM will strengthen the structure around the batteries in the Volt to keep them safe during crashes, and GM has offered to buy back any Volts that are considered as fire hazards by owners. And it was #3 on Yahoo!’s “Worst Product Flops of 2011.”

But I digress – this post is about hybrids, not about the Chevy Volt.

Here is what I found on the Internet (not TV commercials) at this source:

  1. 2012 Nissan Leaf – 92 miles per gallon (mpg)
  2. 2012 Chevy Volt – 90 mpg
  3. 2011 Toyota Prius – 48 mpg
  4. 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid – 43 mpg
  5. 2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid – 36 mpg

Yes, hybrids can get good gas mileage – IF!!! But 92 or 90 or even 48 mpg is a bit much, even for hybrids. So let’s take a look at hybrids, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testing procedure, and the “real world.”

To get 40 mpg, or the mpg promised by advertisers, from any hybrid the speed must be kept under 50 miles per hour (mph), and the accelerator must be treated as if there is an egg under it. Going any faster will ruin your mpg. Driving slowly (under 50 mph) can be an adventure. You will impede the progress of most motorists, and merging into traffic can really become an adventure. But driving under 50 mph negates most wind resistance (something missing from EPA testing – but claimed by adjusting rolling resistance).

But the biggest problem for hybrids in the real world are hills. Nowhere in the EPA testing can I find anything about hills in their testing procedure. Hybrids work best on a flat, level surface. Once rolling, it doesn’t take much power to keep hybrids rolling. Many hybrids can actually shut down the gas engine and keep rolling only on batteries. But (and there is always a “but”) there are hills in the real world. As hybrids tackle hills two things simultaneously happen: the gasoline engine starts, and the batteries are depleted as the electric motor tries to help the gasoline engine maintain speed. When the gasoline engine, which is typically quite small in hybrids, starts it struggles to do two things. First, it tries to cope with the increased load caused by the hill. Second, it tries to recharge the depleting batteries. Asking the gasoline engine to do two things at once quickly ruins the mpg. Of course, slowing down when a hill is encountered is always an option.

Further, as the batteries age, they deplete faster and require the gasoline engine to run more to keep them charged, also depleting mpg. Often two or three year old hybrids will not deliver the mpg of a new, similarly sized, half as expensive, conventionally powered automobile. And, as this source illustrates, the breakeven mileage between a hybrid and a conventionally powered car can be quite high.

And, while doing research for this article, I found out about Heather Peters, a former attorney, and her lawsuit against Honda in California small claims court. Peters says her 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid never came close to getting the promised 50 miles per gallon, and as its battery deteriorated, it was getting only 30 mpg. She wants Honda to pay for her trouble and the extra money she spent on gas. No high-priced lawyers are involved in small claims court and the process is streamlined. “I would not be surprised if she won,” said Richard Cupp Jr., who teaches product liability law at Pepperdine University. “The judge will have a lot of discretion and the evidentiary standards are relaxed in small claims court.” Peters has launched a website, DontSettleWithHonda.org, urging others to take the small claims route.

So, where are we? Well, the EPA testing procedure is a farce. But, as they say, EPA ratings are a useful tool for comparing the fuel economies of different vehicles but may not accurately predict the average MPG you will get. The problem arises because manufacturers advertise EPA ratings, and represent them as actual mpg that can be expected in the real world.

But that’s just my opinion.