The Lie of Hybrid Cars

I’ve never understood the hype behind hybrid cars: sure, they look funky, and they have slightly higher mileage numbers than their conventionally-fueled counterparts, but they just never made any sense. An extra $5k for a car that saves a few gallons of fuel won’t ever be recouped over the probable lifetime of ownership… which is one reason why I found the South Park episode “Smug Alert” so damned funny—the people who drive them do so for their own sake, not economics or the environment.

Of course, if we were really interested in high-efficiency vehicles, we’d all be driving diesels. Diesels are so efficient, a BMW 520d, which is neither small nor sedate, gets better mileage than a Toyota Prius (the poster child of hybrids).

The same holds true for many other diesels. Compared to the Prius’ 45mpg, the Volkwagen Jetta TDI gets over 50 mpg, and rumors have it the Rabbit TDI gets upwards of 69 mpg. While VW has kept the diesel flame alive in the U.S. for many years, the 2009 Honda Accord Diesel will get a reported 52 mpg—well above last year’s more expensive Accord Hybrid. Indeed, there is an entire swath of ultra-high mpg vehicles sold in Europe that are simply not available here for a variety of reasons. Hybrids are not an economic way to save fuel costs and reduce airborne pollution; diesels, on the other hand, are. Like many truly amazing cars sold in Europe but unavailable here—like the Ford Mondeo (driven by Daniel Craig in Casino Royale), we either have to make due without, or wait many more years. Which is too bad.

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14 Responses to “The Lie of Hybrid Cars”

  1. on 24 Mar 2008 at 3:05 pm ChrisB

    Completely agree. I just bought a new vehicle last year, but I’m hoping the next one I buy will be a diesel.

  2. on 25 Mar 2008 at 6:59 am Keith_Indy

    I’ve said as much before…

    IIRC, the US is changing the emissions regulations on diesel in 2009. Most of the manufacturers have been working towards that standard, and should have diesel products out for the 2009 model year that meet it.

  3. on 25 Mar 2008 at 7:08 am Lance

    Cool, I always expected once Keith came on board we would see more car blogging. Nice of you to pick up the slack.

  4. on 25 Mar 2008 at 12:04 pm PogueMahone

    Of course you are right about diesels.
    A friend of mine had a VW Rabbit diesel twenty years ago and it got more than 50mpg… twenty years ago. Funny thing about that VW, once it was parked in the street and was completely submerged in a flood caused by a huge thunderstorm. After a few days drying out, it started right up – I’m crapping you negative.
    I myself drive a diesel Dodge one ton dually and it gets decent mileage given how big and heavy it is (though my father claimed his diesel Ford one ton dually got crap mileage).

    But I do take small issue with the notion that hybrid drivers are smug, self-righteous conceits. Where there are no doubt hippy yuppies that drive hybrids and are known to gather with their contemporaries to look down upon high over a nice bottle of pinot, not all hybrid drivers are like that. And I would be hesitant to believe that even most hybrid drivers are like that – despite the assuredly funny mocking from Parker and Stone (who’s mocking of smugness doesn’t come without its own taste of irony, dontcha’ think?).

    I know two people who drive hybrids and I’ve never heard either of them being smug or self-satisfied over their choice of vehicle.

    When my friend Linda, one of the nicest persons I know, wanted to buy a hybrid, I told her that she may want to look more closely at the purchase and that hybrids are not all what they are hyped to be. I tried to convince her that a diesel would be a smarter choice concerning mileage. She complained that diesels, it seemed to her, were smelly, loud, smog machines with no power. I tried in vein to convince her that modern day diesels are anything but. That one can buy a nice turbo-diesel that is relatively clean and powerful, and that when you are driving it you don’t smell or hear anything unusual. But unfortunately, she bought into the hybrid ideal.

    I guess my point is that if you happen to see a nice, comely young woman driving down the road in a hybrid, you shouldn’t assume that she smells her own farts and is stuck up her own ass. Unlike Parker and Stone no doubt.


  5. on 25 Mar 2008 at 9:58 pm Joshua Foust

    Pogue, I’d agree with you except for the salient fact that hybrid models of conventional cars, like the Honda Civic, don’t sell. The hybrid models that sell in any appreciable number are cars like the Prius, which look like hybrids. In other words, and there have been several studies about this, most people who drive hybrids want to be seen driving hybrids. So even if there is a legit element of environmentalism in the decision, there is still a great big slice of vanity to go along with it, otherwise you’d see hybrid versions of normal cars flying off the showrooms.

  6. on 26 Mar 2008 at 1:31 pm PogueMahone

    So what you are suggesting is that it is not necessarily drivers of hybrids that are smug, but drivers of the Prius.
    I don’t know, maybe you’re right.

    I still see little cause to frame drivers of the Prius as smug. It’s a blanket statement that in my experience just isn’t true. Linda drove an Accord before… could be just brand loyalty. Which makes sense because Toyota makes good cars, and people know it. When it comes to four cylinder engines, I’m a big fan… It’s my impression that Toyotas never die, they just fade away.

    But again, maybe you’re right.
    But I will say this, that even though one’s motivation to buy a hybrid, even a Prius, be vanity in nature, the simple fact that one wishes to be seen, and therefore promote, the use of environmentally friendly consumer products is not necessarily a bad thing. Albeit that their purchases, for the cause of environmentalism, maybe unwise.
    Being environmental is a noble cause. Like you I would assume, I wish to steer them into wise choices about environmentally friendly consumer products.

    I realize that a lot of so-called earth friendly behaviors are not necessarily in the interest of the planet. I know that recycling, for example, doesn’t always favor the environment. That it takes more energy to recycle certain products than it takes to create the new. And it is unfortunate that a lot of people buy into these ideas.
    The only thing that I recycled were aluminum cans. But since I bought my kegerator, I’ve decrease my aluminum can consumption… and my work productivity.

    I tell you what, though. I’ve got advice for anyone wanting to do something for the environment… Keep and raise honeybees. Even if it’s just a couple of hives. Your carbon footprint would be reduced immeasurably.

    Hell, as a commercial beekeeper, my carbon footprint is so far in the negative, I burn tires just as to not embarrass anyone.


  7. on 27 Mar 2008 at 3:49 am Joshua Foust

    I think everyone should buy kegerators to reduce their aluminum consumption. That is a stellar idea!

  8. on 27 Mar 2008 at 11:39 am ChrisB

    I only buy bottles. Not many good beers come in cans.

  9. on 27 Mar 2008 at 11:42 am Maria

    kindred spirit over @ velvetron:

  10. on 27 Mar 2008 at 3:15 pm PogueMahone

    I only buy bottles. Not many good beers come in cans.

    Guinness, Boddingtons, Murphy’s, and others come in those ‘best thing since sliced bread’ draught cans with the special widgets.

    Bellhaven and a few others taste fine out of a can as well.

    Just fyi…


  11. on 27 Mar 2008 at 3:43 pm ChrisB

    I’ve seen guinness and boddingtons, though always go for bottled, or preferably draught guinness.

    Did not know about murphy’s or bellhaven though. Also some local brew up in Colorado comes in cans, Dale’s Pale Ale and Old Chub.

  12. on 27 Mar 2008 at 6:45 pm Don

    Where I work, we have special hybrid parking. Near the handicaped parking.

  13. on 20 Apr 2008 at 1:13 pm DWan

    The great protest against hybrids is absurd. So they don’t save thousands of dollars on gas? Big deal; saving on gas mileage will definitely reduce emissions.  Compare the Prius at its worst possible gas mileage to the average family sedan, and there’s a huge difference in gas mileage.  Great idea to buy a diesel, but how many options are there in the United States for that, other than trucks, which with their inefficiency kind of defeats the purpose?  
    This is why environmental problems are getting worse and worse.  People can’t see the big picture.  If a large number of Americans bought a car that got on average even ten miles per gallon more, we would greatly reduce the amount of toxic fumes we were spitting into the atmosphere.  But, I suppose that since it isn’t completely solving the problem, or since it costs a little bit more to buy those cars, it makes it a bad idea.  It’s illogical to reject a partial solution to such a huge problem just because it is only a partial solution.  In the scenario of global warming, a partial solution will take us one step closer to a full solution.  Think ahead.  
    Of course, add to it things like diesel engines.  Americans need to think ahead to buy into that option as well, though and we have to be realistic and acknowledge that diesel is just as damaging to the environment as other types of gasoline.  Even biodiesels produce carbon monoxide.  Don’t disparage what hybrids can do for us just because they aren’t an immediate and cheap and complete solution to a problem that has taken over a century to create.  If people would buy into the idea that solving the problem is necessary and take even the small measures available, like diesel with its better gas mileage or hybrids with their better gas mileage despite your poorly informed denial, we could, as one of the most powerful economies in the world, make a huge difference in getting the process started.  We have to remember that the world over, environmentally safe cars, industrial practices, manufacturing processes, etc. are at best a difficult option and far from popular.  Any movement toward changing that is a positive movement.   Yes, we need to be realistic, and yes, we need to come up with better options, but when will it be enough?  When there is a car that spits gold out the tailpipe and is free?  What do you expect?   

  14. on 21 Apr 2008 at 8:58 pm Synova

    “If a large number of Americans bought a car that got on average even ten miles per gallon more, we would…”

    …drive more.
    “Even biodiesels produce carbon monoxide.”
    Hybrids are a much more responsible idea that biofuels, which by their nature support large mono-culture farming which *is* directly harmful to the environment, linked to significant chemical run-off and pollution (real pollution, which carbon monoxide is *not*) and artificially and unnecessarily drive up food prices.

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