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The Hybrid Hoax January 20, 2006 11:41 AM

Thought this was interesting. Any thoughts on the matter? DETROIT, Jan. 20, 2006(Weekly Standard) This column was written by Richard Burr.When Treasury Secretary John Snow announced guidelines for a new tax cut for the rich here last week, liberals did not denounce him. That's because the proposed tax breaks were for gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles, the favorite ride of environmentalists this side of bicycles. But the dirty secret about hybrids is that, even as the government continues to fuel their growth with tax subsidies, they don't deliver the gas savings they promise. Most cars and trucks don't achieve the gas mileage they advertise, according to Consumer Reports. But hybrids do a far worse job than conventional vehicles in meeting their Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy ratings, especially in city driving. Hybrids, which typically claim to get 32 to 60 miles per gallon, ended up delivering an average of 19 miles per gallon less than their EPA ratings under real-world driving conditions (which reflect more stop-and-go traffic and Americans' penchant for heavy accelerating) according to a Consumer Reports investigation in October 2005. For example, a 2004 Toyota Prius got 35 miles per gallon in city driving, off 42 percent from its EPA rating of 60 mpg. The 2003 Honda Civic averaged 26 mpg, off 46 percent from its advertised 48 mpg. And the Ford Escape small sport utility vehicle managed 22 mpg, falling 33 percent short of its 33 mpg rating. "City traffic is supposed to be the hybrids' strong suit, but their shortfall amounted to a 40 percent deficit on average," Consumer Reports said. The hybrid failed another real world test in 2004 when a USA Today reporter compared a Toyota Prius hybrid with a Volkswagen Jetta diesel, driving both between his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan and the Washington, D.C. area. Both should have made the 500-mile trip on one tank of gas. "Jetta lived up to its one-tank billing," reporter David Kiley wrote. "Prius did not." Kiley had to stop to refill the Prius, which ended up averaging 38 miles per gallon, compared with 44 miles per gallon for the Jetta (which met its fuel economy rating). And this occurred during spring weather without the extra drain on a hybrid battery caused by winter weather--which would have favored the diesel Jetta even more. Customers complain about the failure to meet fuel savings expectations. There are web sites such as and chat rooms of hybrid fanatics who bemoan their lackluster fuel economy. About 58 percent of hybrid drivers say they aren't happy with their fuel economy (compared with 27 percent of conventional vehicle drivers), according to CNW Marketing Research in Bandon, Oregon. It's gotten to the point where Ford is giving hybrid owners special lessons on how to improve fuel economy, according to USA Today. They teach drivers how to brake sooner, which helps recharge the battery. But they also drill owners with the same tips that help conventional vehicle owners improve gas mileage: Accelerate slowly. Inflate your tires. Plan your errands better. And this eye-opener: Don't set the air conditioner on maximum. "That prevents the electric motor from engaging," USA Today says. Hybrids are also failing to pay for themselves in gas savings. A study by the car-buying website calculates gasoline would have to cost $5.60 a gallon over five years for a Ford Escape hybrid to break even with the costs of driving a non-hybrid vehicle. The break-even number was $9.60 a gallon for a Honda Civic hybrid. Hybrid automakers and their supporters have their defenses. They quibble with how some studies are done. They point out that even with their fuel economy shortcomings, hybrids achieve the best gas mileage in three of five vehicle categories rated by Consumer Reports. Hybrids are still far lower-polluting than diesels. Their sales are growing fast, even though they make up a small 1 percent of America's annual sales of 17 million vehicles. Then there's the ultimate defense: They are just like conventional cars because drivers buy them for many reasons other than fuel savings and cost. There's the "prestige of owning such a vehicle," says Dave Hermance, an executive engineer for environmental engineering at Toyota, the leading seller of hybrids. After all, many vehicle purchases are emotional decisions, he says. So, hybrids have become the environmental equivalent of driving an Escalade or Mustang. Who cares if they deliver on their promises as long as they make a social statement? Taxpayers should. The federal government subsidizes hybrid fashion statements with tax breaks that benefit the rich. The average household income of a Civic hybrid owner ranges between $65,000 to $85,000 a year; it's more than $100,000 for the owner of an Accord. The median income of a Toyota Prius owner is $92,000; for a Highlander SUV owner $121,000; and for a luxury Lexus SUV owner it's over $200,000. This year the government will offer tax credits for hybrid purchases ranging up to $3,400, with owners getting a dollar-for-dollar benefit on their tax forms. This beats last year's $2,000 tax deduction, which amounted up to a $700 benefit, depending on the driver's tax bracket. Just a few years ago, liberals criticized the Bush administration for allowing professionals to get tax breaks on large SUVs if they were purchased for business purposes. But evidently it's okay to subsidize under-performing hybrids. Perhaps with more technological advances, hybrids will some day deliver on their fuel economy promise and truly be worth the extra cost. But the tax credits have become just one more welfare program for the wealthy. Let the fast-growing hybrids show that they can pay for themselves. After all, when Snoop Dogg makes a fashion statement by buying a Chrysler 300 C with a Hemi engine, taxpayers aren't footing part of the bill.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 January 20, 2006 12:35 PM

So, hybrids have become the environmental equivalent of driving an Escalade or Mustang. Who cares if they deliver on their promises as long as they make a social statement? Unfortunately, this statement appears to be true. There are lots of priuses in our town--almost all owned by the higher class. Many are seen parked outside of not so environmentally friendly places so it makes me wonder. Right now we have one car, and I walk a lot. So, I feel I am doing my part. :)  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 January 20, 2006 1:56 PM

I feel ya there Jenn. It has become quite a statement. I am a little disappointed if it holds true that the cars dont' meet expectations, that is a shame. But it is of no difference, I am not in those economic classes, so I bike a lot. Yay for personal transportation.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
But Detroit hates hybrids January 20, 2006 4:37 PM

There is certainly a lot of truth in that opinion piece that you quote. My lifetime average mpg for my 2002 Prius is about 42, while the EPA says in mixed city/highway driving (which I do) I should be getting 48. That means I'm getting 87.5% of what I should. Let's see, my last car was supposed to get 31 mpg in mixed driving, and I got about 27. Holy cow, that's 87.1%. Same commute to work, etc. I admit, my experience is but one data point, but it's all I have. This brings up the point that the EPA mileage tests need to be seriously overhauled. Tax breaks? I bought my car not expecting to get one, but I did take it when offered. Who wouldn't? The tax system has long been used to influence economic choices, and I personally disagree with the structure (but not the intent) of this one. I assume the intent was to get people to drive cleaner, more efficient cars. It should be based on mpg and emissions, regardless of the technology behind it. Thus the Jetta (a fine car) would get a tax break for it's mileage but maybe not it's cleanliness. And since so-called economy cars can be sold cheaper than high-tech hybrids, that would reduce the appearance of giving another tax break to the rich. Not rich at all, Phil K.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 January 20, 2006 6:53 PM

My Civic delivers. The mpg varies depending on driving conditions and the weather. I believe the rating for mine (2004 manual transmission) is 45 city, 52 highway average. Now, that's the key word: Average. In the dead of winter driving in stop and go traffic around town I'll hit 36 mpg. Then, again, I've hit 78 mpg in the summer on the highway. On average, around town in the spring/fall it's around 45 mpg and the highway is 52 mpg. I've had the car for two years this past December. My overall average during that time has been 44.5 mpg.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 January 20, 2006 7:07 PM

I say, YEAH for the rich people! Good for them for setting an example. A hybrid is certainly cheaper than an Escalade and the emissioins are much much lower. Bicycling and public transportation are just not a reality for me where I live, so I opted for a hybrid. I get about 40 mpg city and 50 highway - I'm happy with that. I'm also happy knowing I'm not emitting as many pollutants into the air. So what if it's the next Mustang - I'm glad it just not another "Excessive"!  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
Driving Conditions Make a Difference January 21, 2006 10:45 AM

I agree with you, Phillip, that the EPA rating system needs to be overhauled to reflect more "real-world" driving. I'm sure that there are a wide range of results for hybrids that reflect differences in climate, geography, and personal driving habits, of course. My gut feeling is that personal driving habits makes quite an impact on people's actual mileage. When I observe drivers "speeding" through parking lots, I'm sure they are driving on roads and highways in a way that burns up their gas (and break pads) at a more accellerated pace. I'm afraid that the whole American "car culture" is pre-disposed toward a lack of concern about mileage and emmissions, unfortunately. My wife's 2002 Prius has a lifetime mileage af about 47 mpg here in southeast Arizona. We are pleased with that and never expected it to actually reach the EPA rating level in the first place. I still feel we are doing at least one thing to help reduce greenhouse gasses by driving a hybrid, even if the mileage isn't as good as advertised.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
Remember, bad EPA estimates apply to all cars January 21, 2006 11:36 AM

Please keep in mind that the problems with EPA estimates apply to all cars, not just hybrids. It seems that the article is blaming the cars for not living up to the EPA estimates, and is then reaching the conclusing that the cars or their manufacturers are to blame. That is just rediculus. All of the cars sold in America are tested using the same methods. In fact, if you look at the percentages, the hybrids probably do a lot better in relation to the EPA estimates than non-hybrids. So let's please not confuse problems with how the EPA comes up with MPG estimates with how well the cars actually perform. If you compare the real world performance of hybrids and non-hybrids, you will find that the hybrids really do have much, much better fuel economy. And that is the thing that really matters, isn't it?  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
Driving habits January 27, 2006 9:04 AM

Barry is right about driving conditions and practices making a big difference in gas mileage. A friend of ours recently had to make two trips (in a late model non hybrid van) between Albuquerque and Truth or Consequences, about a 300 mile round trip. So he experimented with different speeds; the first trip he made with the cruise control at 75mph, the second trip he made at 55. His mileage went from about 23.5 to about 32.3 mpg! The EPA's tests are of course conducted to reflect ideal driving conditions and good driving practices, so they are really only supposed to be a benchmark, not a reflection of real life.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
my civic hybrid February 18, 2006 10:51 AM

My honda civic hybrid lives up to the name. He ( and I call him 'he' because my fiance and I have named him Haku, after the river spirit in Miyazaki's 'spirited away' ) averages about 40-45 mpg in the city and we've gotton him up to 55 mpg on the highway. We originally wanted an "Insight," but needed a car quick since our last one was decimated by Hartford drivers and the wait was about half a year. However, Haku has been wonderful! Plus we have cargo room. And yes, as a response to the social status, I love the message it brings across. Sometimes I park beside a Hummer on purpose, just for the contrast. Plus, we've got a "Free Tibet" bumper plate, so our car has some political leanings as well. But I want the world to know that I CARE about our environment and wish to help in any way I can, and I'm proud to bring the message across with "Hybrid" logo and our "wind power energy" window sticker. As a side note: I think another reason that our car gets such great mileage is the control we get over auto-stop and gear choice in using a manual transmission. And get this: we're grad students!! With rent and utilities, since we split the cost of the car, we're able to afford it at 180 a month for each of us. Granted we have two jobs each, but hey, it works;-) But I still can't wait until we get our mid-life crisis Honda Insight once our debt is mostly paid off! :o)  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
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