As time ticks on in our modern world of gadgets, technology and innovative ideas, the hybrid car continues to become more and more popular as the preferred choice of vehicle in western societies. “The Yano Research Institute Ltd. Estimates that by 2015, nearly 5.37 million hybrid vehicles will be on the global road, compared to less than one million last year” (Hick, 2011). Hybrid cars continue to promote themselves as being the optimal choice in vehicle when thinking of going green as they allow the owner to maintain the same lifestyle they’ve always had all the while knowing they’re doing their bit to be green. But are these cars really as green as they make themselves out to be?
The theory behind hybrid cars is just that – a theory. Sure, the reality of them works actually quite well and numerous people are happy with their switch to such vehicles. They may cost a little more upfront, but the savings in gas over the long run evens everything out. “Touted as the gas-saver of the future when introduced in 1999, hybrids are known to use a fraction of the gas due to their ability to “share the burden,” with their electric motors. Full hybrid vehicles allow the electric motor to work independently of the more traditional combustion engine, while driving at low speeds. This in turn saves gas, and stops harmful emissions from entering the atmosphere. During an idle stop, a full hybrid actually shuts itself off, letting the electric motor take over to eliminate unnecessary idling and emissions.” (Hick, 2011).
The issue comes into play not so much with the car itself, but with the manufacturing of such car. At this point in time, there hasn’t been adequate development in the process of creating a hybrid car which leaves environmentalists wondering if hybrid cars are as worth it as what they claim to be. Quite simply, “the amount of carbon dioxide released to generate electricity to power a hybrid vehicle and the emissions released to fabricate the vehicle is just as great if not greater than the amount of emissions released with a normal gasoline vehicle” (The Green Scene, 2011). When simply looking at this statement, it can be easy to think that the CO2 emissions during production of a hybrid car shouldn’t matter if during the time the vehicle is actually in use the environmental benefits outweigh that of a regular gasoline vehicle. Ideally, yes, it would be great if there was less CO2 emissions released during the production of a hybrid vehicle, but at least when it’s on the road it still can be considered environmentally friendly, right?
The thing is, aside from the extra costs of buying a hybrid vehicle, there are issues with actual environmental benefits of a hybrid car. “A study by CNW Marketing Research suggests that the extra energy cost of manufacture, shipping, disposal and the short lives of some of these types of vehicle (particularly gas-electric hybrid vehicles) outweighs any energy savings made by their using less petroleum during their useful lifespan” (Wikipedia, 2011). As well, due to the nature of a hybrid car – being both gasoline and electric – the complexity of ensuring everything is in working order can be twice as hard. “A hybrid vehicle is composed of two engines: gas and electric. This means both have to be maintained and on so regularly” (Do It Yourself). An owner of a hybrid car not only has to do regular maintenance as they would if they had a simple gasoline vehicle, but they also have to schedule in maintenance time with regards to the electrical components of the vehicle. There are still the regular oil changes. The regular fluid checks. The regular break pad and air filter replacements. Plus everything related to the electrical components of the vehicle. Think engine, battery, connections, etc.
The biggest environmentally-friendly impact these cars actually make is through the use of less petroleum during their lifespan. Period. Due to the electrical components in the car, it is assumed that the driver will not only reduce the amount of gas being used, but be able to use the car for a lot longer. “If you drive the car correctly then the gas engine is used a lot less and then, as a result, the vehicle as a whole lasts longer than a standard car that runs solely on gas… [The] brakes on the hybrid car will last considerably longer than those of the standard car… Filters last longer because the gas engine is used less… The battery design is much more efficient than a standard battery and can last for over 100 000 miles. The cost to replace, however, is several hundred dollars” (Do It Yourself). And that can be a major concern. The cost of these so-called environmental vehicles.
Due to a sometimes hefty upfront fee for purchasing a hybrid vehicle, it can take years until the owner will ever see a return on the initial cost of the vehicle. According to Million Dollar Journey, a comparison was done between standard cars and their hybrid versions. The finding indicate that “the Prius would take over 13 years to pay for it’s premium” (FrugalTrader, 2008). So, quite simply, if a person is environmentally-conscious and hopes to make a difference in this world, is it really worth it to choose a hybrid vehicle?
“Hybrids are sexy and make a statement, but require no real sacrifice. Sure, they cost more per mile to run than an economy car because people pay more for them up front. But so do Hummers. People are paying the premium for the cache of a hybrid. It’s all about brand and status (If you don’t believe it look at how hot Prius sales haven’t trickled down to more pedestrian hybrid models introduced by Ford and others). People buy hybrids because they’re upscale and make a very public statement about being eco-friendly, just as Hummer owners make their own statement to the tree huggers” (Mitchell, 2007). So if the hybrid cars are more about the image and don’t actually save much CO2 emissions in the production, distribution and disposal – if they don’t exactly save on cost – if “a hybrid [only] cuts emissions by 25% to 35% over even the most fuel efficient gas powered models” (Dunn, 2006) on average, does this make it all worth it? Does all this make the hybrid car an adequate environmental choice? Bente Overli, the Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman, once stated that “Cars cannot do anything good for the environment except less damage than others” (Wikipedia, 2011). But is that enough?
I think the bottom line to all of this is that hybrid cars have been great at merging the love of a strong, powerful and fast car with a want of helping out the environment, but I think the concept is a long way from being sufficiently environmentally-conscious on a whole. The reality is glaringly obvious as those who want the truly strong, powerful and fast cars won’t ever consider a hybrid as they barely scrape by on the bottom of the scale. Same is said for those who are truly wanting to be environmentally conscious – the hybrid just gets by on being able to claim it’s environmentally-friendly. Not to mention those who are looking for an affordable option – this just simply isn’t it.
There are too many gaps within the entire process of making and using the hybrid cars to convince me that this is the best that we can do. I think the hybrid car is merely a stepping stone and a safe bet for those who aren’t yet persuaded that they should be doing more. Sure, the hybrid car helps, but if we really want to make a positive impact in this world, serious change needs to happen. Not a Band-Aid solution that is hardly adequate in allowing us to pat each other on our backs for our amazing progress in making the world a better place.
That is why we need to look bigger. It’s why we actually need to change. Why when we look outside the box we might actually find a solution that works. Like buying a bike to get to work. Like making a point to carpool or use public transport. Like investing in a completely electric car. Not to mention – whatever happened to walking? If the world’s ecosystem is really what is important to us, then that should be the priority in our lives. Being environmentally friendly is not about compromising the world’s needs so that we can continue to live as we were, it’s about compromising what we thought we needed so that the bigger picture can look a bit brighter for a lifetime to come.
Do It Yourself. (n.d.). Do It Yourself. Retrieved September 15, 2011, from Do Hybrid Cars Last Longer Than Standard Cars?: http://www.doityourself.com/stry/do-hybrid-cars-last-longer-than-standard-cars
Dunn, P. (2006, January 19). Hybrid Cars – Pros and Cons. Retrieved September 15, 2011, from Physorg.com: http://www.physorg.com/news10031.html
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Mitchell, R. L. (2007, October 19). Tech Check: Why Hybrid Car Eco-nomics Don’t Add Up. Retrieved September 15, 2011, from Computerworld: http://blogs.computerworld.com/tech_check_why_hybrid_car_eco_nomics_dont_add_up
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