Monday, April 9, 2007

The Myth of Hybrid Automobiles

Gadabout is uncovering one of the greatest shams of all time—the touted efficiency of Hybrid (gasoline/electric) automobiles. This research all began when I recently sold my boat a few months ago and questioned my personal need for my Chevrolet Trail Blazer. The Trail Blazer is a fantastic set of wheels, but averaging 18 mpg for mixed driving seemed like a waste of fuel and cash, so I started looking into alternatives to avoid giving the bad guys American cash for overpriced oil. Yes, Gadabout cares!

I have always been impressed with my friend’s Pontiac Vibe. It is roomy, gets good mileage, has some pep and doesn’t look too much like a chick car. Then I noticed all those Toyota Priuses (Gadabout only buys American) out and about, so I looked into the hybrid idea. I was shocked at the results of my research. Hybrids are a hoax feed with fear of global warming. People who buy and drive hybrids do so to make a green social statement indicating that they are doing their part in reducing green house emissions and oil consumption. Hybrids are a waste of money, and over time I believe the truth will be told. But for now, it is up to Gadabout to inform the world and dispel a monumental myth.

Let’s just take a look at the basic facts of the Prius and compare it to the Toyota Corolla and the Pontiac Vibe. Since Hybrids sell for a premium, comparable models sell for much less for about the same size and performance. The savings can be applied to a cash reserve to pay for gas over a period of time. I was interested in discovering when the total outlay of cash coincides over a period of miles driven. In other words, the break even point. The data shows break even points accounting for $2, $3 and $4 dollar per gallon gas. All price information was gathered from Kelly Blue Book for price and mpg estimates.

2007 Prius $23,690—55 mpg
2007 Corolla $14,925—slightly smaller vehicle, but comparable interior space, 36 mpg
2007 Vibe $17,345—slightly larger vehicle, but better performance, 30 mpg

Prius vs Corolla ($8765 cost differential)—break even mileage table:

$2 per gallon gas = 456,510 miles
$3 per gallon gas = 342,382 miles
$4 per gallon gas = 228,255 miles

Prius vs Vibe ($6,345 cost differential)—break even mileage table:

$2 per gallon gas = 264,462 miles
$3 per gallon gas = 175,824 miles
$4 per gallon gas = 132,231 miles

That’s right, you would have to drive a Prius 456,510 miles (using $2 gas) to hit a break even point if you would have instead bought a Corolla. Okay, you might say that that is fine because you were saving the environment from harmful gas emissions by going green with your Prius friend. Read on!

Hybrids have 2 power sources; an internal combustion engine and a heavy duty battery pack. Hybrids save fuel by shutting down the gasoline engine with the car is at rest, and accelerating the vehicle to speeds of around 30-40 miles per gallon. The battery is charged through braking (very cool idea) and via a somewhat conventional approach using the gas engine (puts a load on the power system and reduces mpg). In theory and in practicality this has proven to be a real winner and does, indeed, save gasoline. But there is a problem with all of this and it revolves around that nasty little battery pack. You see, the battery loses its ability to hold a charge over time, requiring more and more juice from the car’s engine. Take a cell phone for example. Over time you need to charge it up more and more often, and the usable talking time is less and less over time. The batteries in a hybrid lose their ability to hold a charge over time too and require replacement after about 100,000 miles. Toyota doesn’t like to talk about battery life, or replacement costs. Factory tests show that they can last as long as about 160,000 miles, but they stand firm with at least 100,000 miles under actual operational conditions.

How much does a replacement battery cost? Glad you asked. The literature suggests about $3,000 for the part alone. Most likely more to have it installed and for disposal of the old battery. There are several points to be made with this battery discussion, so I’ll summarize:

- Even if a battery lasts 160,000 miles, it will need to be replaced for at least $3,500
- The mpg for a hybrid will decrease over time as the battery degenerates so the figures in the tables above will not reflect truth
- A hybrid will drive just fine with a bad battery—it will simply use the gasoline engine
- What are the hazards of these thousands of replacement batteries on the environment?

Closing statements of findings:

Because of limited battery life, the Prius will NEVER break even in cost with the Vibe or Corolla with $4 per gallon gas—EVER!

If batteries are not replaced when required, then all hybrids will NOT save fuel.

I did not factor in tax credits for hybrids since there are usually factory and dealer incentives for other comparable vehicles.

Hybrid drivers enjoy other benefits such as HOV access even if their battery pack is exhausted. This annoys me.

We don’t know the environmental impact of battery disposal.

Hybrids incorporate many weight savings and performance measures such as aluminum frames and special tires (that don’t last as long and produce less traction and louder road noise).

Better batteries are being designed and produced, but until replacement costs are lowered to about $1,500 consumers will be reluctant to replace exhausted units.

Diesel engines are on the way which will likely increase mpg by as much as 10-15 %, thus making the hybrid debate even more dubious.

The touted 55 mpg for the Prius is a high estimate. The proud Prius web sites that I checked out indicate around 50 mpg as an honest number. I don't know about the Corolla, but my Vibe friend believes the 30 mpg estimate is dead on.

Gadabout believes you should shun hybrids until battery replacement costs are significantly reduced, the cost of gasoline nears $7.00 per gallon, and we figure out what to do with all the dead batteries. Once again—dispelling myths for the betterment of all mankind.


Anonymous said...

While researching the "efficiency" of these automobiles, please look into the longevity of the batteries, replacement cost and residual voltage drop over time.

Gadabout Jack said...

Right on my friend!

Anonymous said...

Just as I thought. You're the man. I salute your research. Good job.

The Melvin said...

Hybrids currently serve as the ultimate status symbol for the greenies. The motivation for owning them seems to be as much about projecting an image as about the environment. It's no surprise that they've jumped on the bandwagon without asking the proper questions. However, if your emphasis is on decreasing the nation's dependence on foreign oil, the data still looks pretty good...owning a Prius will put less American cash into the hands of the "bad guys," unless, of course, the bad guys sell batteries.

Gadabout Jack said...

The Melvin makes a good point, but Gadabout believes if you really want to save dough and fuel, then buy a Corolla or other conventional gas sipping vehicle and keep it in top condition. If all Americans scaled down just a little bit and kept their cars running smoothly, we would make great strides towards independence. $4,000 every 100,000 miles will put a major hurt on the average wallet.

Anonymous said...

according to South Park, people who drive hybrids like to smell their own farts and raise the "smug level" to dangerously high levels.