As I’ve expressed before, I’m skeptical of the current craze for hybrid cars. As I understand it, they were initially developed for their low emissions; better gas mileage was a bonus. But now, a lot of people are buying them for their general ‘green’ fuzzy feelgood value.
This New York Times editorial confirms my suspicions regarding some people’s relatively unconsidered reasons for buying hybrids:
Lately, people have been calling me and telling me they’re thinking about buying the Lexus 400H, a new hybrid SUV. When I tell them that they’d get better mileage in some conventional SUVs, and even better mileage with a passenger car, they protest, “But it’s a hybrid!” I remind them that the 21 miles per gallon I saw while driving the Lexus 400H is not particularly brilliant, efficiency-wise – hybrid or not. Because the Lexus is a relatively heavy car and because its electric motor is deployed to provide speed more than efficiency, it will never be a mileage champ.
The article also offers some useful advice on when a hybrid is and isn’t a good choice. For example:
Indeed, [with highway driving] the [Prius'] gasoline engine worked so hard that we calculated we might have used less fuel on our journey if we had been driving Toyota’s conventionally powered, similarly sized Corolla – which costs thousands less.
The article concludes with a warning about the government’s current penchant for supporting hybrid purchases:
So the ideal hybrid car is one that is used in town and carefully disposed of at the end of its days. Hybrid taxis and buses make enormous sense. But the market knows no such distinctions. People think they want hybrids and they’ll buy them, even if a conventional car would make more sense. The danger is that the automakers will co- opt the hybrids’ green mantle and, with the help of a government looking to bail out its troubled friends in Detroit, misguidedly encourage the sale of hybrids without reference to their actual effect on oil consumption.
Pro-hybrid laws and incentives sound nice, but they might just end up subsidizing companies that have failed to develop truly fuel-efficient vehicles at the expense of those that have had the foresight to design their cars right in the first place. And they may actually punish citizens who save fuel the old- fashioned way – by using less of it, with smaller, lighter and more efficient cars. All the while, they’ll make a mockery of a potentially useful technology.
So, I’m definitely going to hold onto my eight-year-old Corolla. She’s homely but she gets the job done quite efficiently.