Skip to comments.Have You Hugged a Hummer Today? (Piercing the Hybrid Hype)
Posted on 07/19/2006 1:33:07 PM PDT by Uncledave
July 19, 2006
Have You Hugged a Hummer Today? Hybrid vehicles' overall energy costs exceed those of comparable non-hybrids Shikha Dalmia
Ford Motor Company did itself a huge favor recently by backing away from its pledge to bump-up its hybrid production ten-fold in four years. But, as it turns out, the company might have done the planet a whale of a favor too.
Just last fall, CEO Bill Ford was valiantly promising in a mega-million dollar ad campaign that the company would never, ever turn away from its hybrid pledge because these vehicles were central to the company's reputation as an "innovator and environmental steward."
Never mind that at the time Ford was losing $2,000 to $3,000 for every hybrid it sold because consumers won't pay the entire $6,000 extra that it costs to produce a hybrid over its gas-powered counterpart. Never mind also that in the real world -- outside of the Environmental Protection Agency's tax-payer funded testing sites -- hybrids don't deliver anywhere close to the gas mileage that the agency attributes to them, as auto-writer Richard Burr reported in the Weekly Standard.
Bill Ford had given his word on hybrids and you could take that to the bank (ruptcy court). But hybrids have received such a thrashing in the market lately that even Ford was forced to take-off his green eye-shades and read the red-ink on the wall.
According to Art Spinella, the uber-auto analyst and President of CNW Marketing Research, hybrid sales every month this year have been down compared to the same time last year. Even sales of the Toyota Prius the darling of the greens have dropped significantly. The only segment besides taxis where hybrids are still holding steady taxpayers will be happy to note -- is the car fleets maintained by the government.
What's particularly interesting is that individual consumers are defying all expectations and turning their backs on hybrids at a time when gas prices are soaring. (The average U.S. retail price of gas spiked to a record high of $3.01 last September following hurricane Katrina, and just last week it hit its second highest price ever at nearly $3.00.) Nor is the reason all that mysterious. Spinella's customer satisfaction surveys show that 62 percent of hybrid owners are dissatisfied with the fuel-economy performance of their cars given what they have paid for them.
This means that when gas prices go up, these people don't rush out to buy more hybrids. "They buy a Chevy Aveo," says Spinella. "It delivers the same fuel economy as a Prius, but at half the price."
Consumer interest might revive if the cost of hybrids goes down substantially or the cost of fuel goes up and stays up for a long period of time, Spinella believes. Until then, however, the hybrid market is unlikely to come out of the deep freeze, a reality that even Ford had to finally acknowledge.
But despite all these drawbacks, hybrids are at least better for the environment than say .. a Hummer, right? Nope.
Spinella spent two years on the most comprehensive study to date dubbed "Dust to Dust" -- collecting data on the energy necessary to plan, build, sell, drive and dispose of a car from the initial conception to scrappage. He even included in the study such minutia as plant-to-dealer fuel costs of each vehicle, employee driving distances, and electricity usage per pound of material. All this data was then boiled down to an "energy cost per mile" figure for each car (see here and here).
Comparing this data, the study concludes that overall hybrids cost more in terms of overall energy consumed than comparable non-hybrid vehicles. But even more surprising, smaller hybrids' energy costs are greater than many large, non-hybrid SUVs.
For instance, the dust-to-dust energy cost of the bunny-sized Honda Civic hybrid is $3.238 per mile. This is quite a bit more than the $1.949 per mile that the elephantine Hummer costs. The energy cots of SUVs such as the Tahoe, Escalade, and Navigator are similarly far less than the Civic hybrid.
As for Ford cars, a Ford Escape hybrid costs $3.2 per mile about a third more than the regular Escape. But on the whole, ironically enough, the dust-to-dust costs of many of the Ford non-hybrids Fusion, Milan, Zephyr are not only lower than comparable Japanese hybrids Prius, Accord -- but also non-hybrids Seville, Civic.
Spinella's finding that a Hummer on the whole consumes less energy than a hybrid than even some smaller hybrids and non-hybrids has infuriated environmentalists. And on its face it does seem implausible that a gas-guzzling monster like a Hummer that employs several times more raw material than a little Prius' could be so much less energy-intensive. But by and large the dust-to-dust energy costs in Spinella's study correlate with the fanciness of the car not its size or fuel economy -- with the Rolls Royces and Bentleys consuming gobs of energy and Mazda 3s, Saturns and Taurus consuming relatively minuscule amounts.
As for Hummers, Spinella explains, the life of these cars averaged across various models is over 300,000 miles. By contrast, Prius' life according to Toyota's own numbers is 100,000 miles. Furthermore, Hummer is a far less sophisticated vehicle. Its engine obviously does not have an electric and gas component as a hybrid's does so it takes much less time and energy to manufacture. What's more, its main raw ingredient is low-cost steel, not the exotic light-weights that are exceedingly difficult to make and dispose. But the biggest reason why a Hummer's energy use is so low is that it shares many components with other vehicles and therefore its design and development energy costs are spread across many cars.
It is not possible to do this with a specialty product like hybrid. All in all, Spinella insists, the energy costs of disposing a Hummer are 60 percent less than an average hybrid's and its design and development costs are 80 percent less.
One of the most perverse things about U.S. consumers buying hybrids is that while this might reduce air pollution in their own cities, they increase pollution and energy consumption -- in Japan and other Asian countries where these cars are predominantly manufactured. "In effect, they are exporting pollution and energy consumption," Spinella says.
But while the environment has dodged Ford's hybrid foray, Toyota has shown no planetary concerns. It is going full throttle ahead with its plan of putting one million hybrids on the road by the end of the decade. Nor is there much hope that it will back-off in the near future given that it has already sunk $2 billion just in hybrid-related research and development, Spinella points out. Ironically Ford and some of the other car makers' exit from the hybrid segment means that Toyota will be able to consolidate its domination in it even more.
Thus the only hope of prodding Toyota to get out of the hybrid business would be if its customers jumped off the Prius bandwagon and embraced non-hybrids even Hummers -- instead.
Now here's a catchy slogan for the next Save the Earth campaign: Have you hugged a Hummer today?
Shikha Dalmia is a senior policy analyst at Reason Foundation. An archive of her work is here and Reason's environment research and commentary is here.
Hybrids have been in use in the US since 1918. The first application was the diesel electric locomotive.
Early diesel-electrics were switching engines used to move rail cars around in rail yards. The first went into service in 1918 with the Jay Street Connecting Railroad.
No new ideas, just revamped old ideas...
Another interesting aspect of this is that the common platform strategy is one big reason why GM is struggling. They are not making cars people want to buy because there's too little varation between them.
I don't think there's much extra cost to dispose of a Prius or Hummer if we just let them sit in junkyards until they rust away, which seems to be the overall fate of most cars.
However, the point of interest seems to be that if a typical car lasts for 300k miles and the Prius is not economically repairable after 100k miles (presumably the lifespan of the battery pack), that is truly not good.
What this means is that there are probably more than a few Priuses that are being sold on terms that will see the payments continue past the economic life of the vehicle. If you finance a Prius over 5 years - and I've seen six year auto financing available! - you could go only 20k miles a year and the car would be statistically dead before the last payment is made.
So much for cheap lease deals, eh?
(I just bought a 2000 Mercedes S500 to replace my ancient 1991 420SEL. Drives like a dream, is super-fast but I daresay it would be horrible on the writer's scale since it's very complex and uses many exotic materials to keep weight down. So if you really want to anger the envirowackos this might be your best automotive choice - and it averages a touch under 20mpg to boot, not bad compared to a similar-sized SUV. I'm pretty impressed considering my 420 was about 14mpg on a good day.)
By contrast, Prius' life according to Toyota's own numbers is 100,000 miles.
That is false. The Prius battery is warranted for 100,000 miles. Warranties are not "life expectancies", and even an idiot would know that. There are no reports of Prius cars being abandoned yet. The fact that they are being bought by cab companies shows the lie of the above statement -- a cab company wouldn't buy a car that was going to break in 100,000 miles. By contrast with this stupid statement, a Prius cab had gone over 250,000 miles with nothing more than routine maintenance, and then Toyota TOOK THE BATTERY back just to check it out, and found it was not materially degraded.
Furthermore, Hummer is a far less sophisticated vehicle. Its engine obviously does not have an electric and gas component as a hybrid's does so it takes much less time and energy to manufacture.
Last time I looked, a Hummer has a very LARGE engine with twice the pistons and moving parts as a Prius gas engine, a drive train with gears that the Toyota does NOT have, and an "electric component" remarkably like a motor-generator, with a motor that is powerful enough to turn over the engine, and then operate as a generator to charge the battery.
What's more, its main raw ingredient is low-cost steel, not the exotic light-weights that are exceedingly difficult to make and dispose.
The materials used for the Prius are hardly "exotic", theres some high-strength plastics that are recyclable, a lot of aluminum which is recyclable. The Hummer as a LOT MORE raw materials than the Prius.
But the biggest reason why a Hummer's energy use is so low is that it shares many components with other vehicles and therefore its design and development energy costs are spread across many cars.
This is the first I've seen suggested that the "design and development" energy costs are a significant factor in lifetime energy use. How much energy to those computers use? The Prius power train is being reused in several other cars, and believe it or not MANY of the parts in a hybrid car are STANDARD PARTS, like brake pads, tires, door handles, electric windows, steering wheel, etc.
There were many other problems with the article, but that is all I could bear to deal with. Like comparing the "real-world" gas use numbers of a Prius to the artificial EPA numbers for other cars. I'm getting real-world gas mileage in my two Prius cars that are far above what I got in any previous car -- and I really doubt the cars they mention are regularly getting 45+ miles per gallon.
If you don't want a hybrid, don't buy a hybrid
Just adding that a Prius is fun to drive. It's got a lot of zip, and it's quiet.
I don't think anyone should buy a hybrid to save money. If you like the car, you buy it.
We have a Prius. My husband loved it after he test drove it. It handled a lot better than the other cars he drove, and it was quieter. Being a computer geek, he also like the screen and other technologies in the car. Of course, right now he loves that he isn't going to the gas station often.
"The first application was the diesel electric locomotive."
Don't forget the submarines used in both world wars.
funny how everyone re-invents the wheel with existing old ideas.. progress... lol
Unfortunately you are probably right.
New emission standards for diesels this year have forced all but Mercedes-Benz out of the auto-diesel market in the US this year.
As far as GM making the Aveo here, I agree. But Chevy doesn't even build the Colorado pickup....Isuzu does....