Friday, February 04, 2005

I've Had Enough of Hybrids

The feeling I get from listening to people talk about driving a hybrid reminds me a lot of the Simpsons where Ed Begley, Jr. buzzes of on a go-cart fueled by his own sense of self-satisfaction. I don't begrudge anyone wanting to cut back on the amount of fuel they use, and in fact I'm delighted it's still a choice left to individuals. But hybrids are nowhere near the improvement they are generally made out to be, especially when taken against existing, reliable diesel technology.

The details of the comparison of modern hybrids against modern details can be seen in an excellent article at Consumer Guide, but it boils down to this: a new VW Jetta TDI is very close to the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic hybrids in terms of gas mileage and emissions, and at the same time it has many inherent advantages.

1. Proven Diesel Technology
Diesels last significantly longer that standard engines, tend to be more reliable because they are simpler in design, and are the choice in many commercial vehicles because of that. There is no reason to be concerned about the choice you've made when there's as much experience in engine design as there is with diesels. Hybrids, on the other hand have a limited history of use.

2. No Battery Pack, No Extra Motor
The batteries are expensive to replace, they need to be recycled carefully, and they are attached to an electric motor and control computer that are unproven in the long-term. For as much extra technology is packed into these cars, the relative gains are very small. Safety becomes an unkown in collisions with these electrical systems as well, and emergency crews have special procedures for dealing with them.

3. Ready to Burn Domestic Biodiesel
Biodiesel is getting easier to get commercially, in my area there are 3 Pacific Pride cardlock stations that carry it. California has decent coverage as well. Regardless of your location though, today's hybrids will never have this option, and do little to reduce our use of foreign oil in a significant way.

4. Passing Power
The Prius has a ridiculously low 82 lb-ft of torque, and the Civic Hybrid is not much better at 116. The Jetta TDI has 177 lb-ft, more than 50% higher than the Civic and more than double the Prius. Diesel engines are inherently good in this area, and if you think you might need to pass someone someday, you might think again before you choose a hybrid.

5. Repair Costs
As of now, this is still a known vs. unknown argument, but with all of the extra equipment on a hybrid, and having some existing track record for diesels, it is not much of a stretch to say hybrids will tend to be more expensive and difficult to repair.

For now at least, I see no reason to own a hybrid automobile, and it's disappointing to see how few diesel models we actually get in our market. But if perceptions change and dealers sense some demand, we could actually get more efficient diesel cars without giving up everything you lose with a hybrid.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eat my voltage

10:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

first, I'll say that I don't harbor a particular grudge against diesels, they last forever and that's a good thing, but the fact is that they produce a lot of pollutants aa byproduct of combustion, more than conventional engines; and I think that the important thing about hybrids is that they are instrumental in or maybe reflective of a shift in attitudes and perceptions of consumers. I won't go on to say electric is the way to go- where does that energy come from?- but changing trends in behavior, even in baby steps, is significant in itself.

5:22 PM  

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