Hybrid and fully electric cars are held high on a podium of statistics, gleaming under the spotlight of the public view as the savior of our planet’s environment. Conventional wisdom might tell us quite the contrary, but buying a hybrid is actually a harmful thing that a consumer can do for the environment, and their wallets.
A hybrid is a car with a small gas motor paired with an electric motor, resulting in a higher miles per gallon than a gas equivalent. However, they are still gas powered cars, and still take conventional fuel at the same price as any other car. If you are able to find a car with better miles per gallon than a hybrid, than the price for gas, and footprint left behind by carbon emissions will be less. The highest miles per gallon (mpg) produced by any hybrid comes from the Toyota Prius C, an impressive 53 mpg. This however is much lower than several alternatives. Diesel cars are one alternative, but they have been frowned upon previously because of the harmful hydrocarbons that are released into the air, and the dirty drilling process. However, the production of diesel and filters put into the exhaust are making diesel cars much cleaner, and they get 40% better mpg than their gas counterparts (“What You Should Know Before Buying a Diesel.”). If diesel is something you aren’t interested, there are many gas powered cars that have been engineered to be as economical as possible without electric motors. Some of these vehicles reach, and pass the mpg mark set by popular hybrids. For instance, the Volkswagen Polo Bluemotion has a gas powered version that gets up to 73 mpg, over 20 more mpg than the most fuel efficient hybrid. It also has a small diesel engine that once fitted produces 92 mpg. This represents massive savings on total gasoline purchased.
Hybrids are valued for their positive impact on the environment, however, their production is incredibly harmful to our Earth. There was a study conducted by Engineering students at MIT that took into account factors like harvesting/transporting materials, production, and overall pollution produced while owning a hybrid to determine total pollution created by the production of a single unit. The study concluded that driving a large SUV for its entire lifetime will not do as much damage to the earth as the production of a single hybrid. The main cause of ecological harm comes from the mining of Lithium and Cobalt for the batteries that collect electricity to power the electric motor. Lithium and cobalt are 10 times as harmful to mine as steel, and also tend to be buried further in the ground, resulting in the demolition of mountain ranges, leaving valleys full of gravel where there were once glorious hills (Clark). The transportation of materials for a hybrid add to the tax on the environment. The entire process of creating a hybrid is 6 times more polluting to the environment. You would have to drive a hybrid car nearly twice as long in order for the toll on the environment to pay off.
The hybrid premium is another potential danger of buying a hybrid. Because hybrid cars cost more to make, they cost 10 percent more at the dealership. The idea behind this premium is that over the lifetime of the car, you will save more money by saving trips to the gas pump. I wanted to determine how long it would take to pay off the hybrid premium driving an average of 12,000 miles per year, using highway mpg (typically higher than city mpg). The equation I used was [(Total Mileage/MPG hybrid)xgas price – ((Total Mileage/MPG gas)xgas price)]. This gave me a number, which I called A. I then took the difference in price between the 2 cars, the hybrid premium, and divided it by A to get the number of years it would take to pay off the higher price in gas savings. For example a Honda Civic Hybrid is 3,545 dollars more, while having only a 10 mpg difference. With a 12,000 mile a year driver, with gas at its current price of 2 dollars, it would take 14 years, or approximately 168,000 miles to pay off the “hybrid premium”. The most extreme case of this is the Lexus LS460. The premium on this car would take 102.6 years to pay off, or approximately 1,200,000 miles (“MPG of Family Sedans.”).
What most people think of as another alternative to hybrids are fully electric cars. I touched on the environmental factors that should turn you away from electric cars, however there are economic reasons as well. Fully electric cars will cost more, and continue to cost more than a gas powered versions of the same car. Electric cars have approximately the same premium as hybrid cars because of the cost of production and the estimated savings on fuel. This cost difference can be paid off quickly because you pay for no gas, however in a hybrid you do pay for replacement batteries. The Nissan Leaf, a popular electric car, has batteries that last approximately 5 years before Nissan recommends you replace them. They cost 6,000 dollars to replace, not to mention the 1,000 dollar charge from Nissan for safely recycling the battery (“Hybrid Electric Cars.”). The amount of money spent on gas over that same 5 year period in a typical family car, like a Jeep Grand Cherokee, a similarly priced vehicle, is 5,500 dollars (“MPG of Family Sedans.”). This means that paying for absolutely no gas at all is more expensive than paying for gas in a fairly thirsty SUV.
Hybrids and fully electric cars are attractive to the modern consumer, but they are not the answer to saving our environment, or our money. The toll on the environment during production, and the total cost of maintaining the car will be just as taxing, if not more than these costs resulting from a gas powered vehicle. The idea of a cleaner car is a potentially positive idea, and the concept is sound. However, in this economy, with the current technology we have, the perfect hybrid/electric car is out of reach. In the future however, once our technology progresses we will create a vehicle that can potentially save our environment, and our wallets.
Clark, Duncan. “What’s the Carbon Footprint of a New Hybrid?”Theguardian.com. The o o Guardian, Sept. 2013. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.
“Hybrid Electric Cars.” The Electric Car: Development and Future of Battery, Hybrid and – o Fuel-cell Cars (2001): 142-64. Wpi.edu. Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Web. 7 Dec. o o 2015.
“MPG of Family Sedans.” Fueleconomy.gov. U.S. Government, n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.
“What You Should Know Before Buying a Diesel.” Edmunds.com. Edmunds, n.d. Web. 09 Dec. o 2015.