Hybrids Are Worth It!
A Problem of Perception Not Technology
To the editor:
The writers of the IEEE article you have recently referenced on the economics of hybrids make what would seem to be a very questionable statement of fact regarding the fuel cost of the hybrid versus the standard Corolla. This error would seem to undermine their entire premise and conclusion.
At one point they state that the hybrid Prius would only save $932 in fuel costs over a Corolla with a gasoline-only power train. I quote:
"At a gasoline price of $0.40/liter, the Perf-Prius would use $932 less fuel than the Corolla, a savings that is much smaller than the vehicle's $3495 price premium."
My math turns up a much different figure. The authors are assuming a lifetime of 14 years for the vehicles. Let us conservatively assume each car travels 12,000 miles per year, with a Corolla averaging 30 mpg, the Prius averaging 50 mpg, and a fuel cost of $1.40. The Corolla would use 400 gallons of fuel in that year at a cost of $560. The Prius would require 240 gallons at a cost of $336. Thus the Prius would save $224 per year, or $3,136 over the 14 year lifespan.
The cost advantage of the Prius goes up as gasoline gets more expensive and as more miles are traveled. For instance, at $1.55 per gallon (average around here at the moment) and travelling an annual 15,000 miles (not unusual), the cost saving per year is $310 per year, or $4340 over the life of the vehicles.
This would seem to me to justify the approximate $3500 price premium for the hybrid based on real world fuel costs alone. The fact that the hybrid emits less pollutants and CO2 would seem to me to make give the hybrid a clear advantage even at this point in time.
This is real world today. As the Prius and Insight are only the first generation of hybrids, it would seem likely that the technology is going to improve much more rapidly than the pure ICE technology, which is unlikely to make any more significant gains after 100 years of maturity. The slightest improvement in batteries, hybrid system efficiency, and cost reduction due to scale manufacturing will only tip the scale even further in the direction of the hybrid. Whereas any improvement in ICE technology is likely to benefit the hybrid at least as much as it will the pure ICE vehicle.
This is to say nothing of the already reduced emissions of the hybrid's smaller engine. Again, any improvement to the ICE in this regard is likely to benefit the hybrid as much as the pure ICE, only furthering the hybrid's advantage.
Of course, the stumbling block for the auto industry is that an increase of $3500 in the purchase price of a car would seem to be a huge obstacle to sales. However, the strong interest in and decent sales of the Insight and Prius should be making it clear that there is a demand, even at a price premium, for greenness and fuel efficiency. Also, as most car purchases are financed anyway, the fuel cost savings will offset the slightly higher monthly payments, meaning that real out of pocket is not much different. Furthermore, incentive programs like a "Green Tax Credit", or "Green Loan" interest rate break, or a rebate of gasoline sales taxes for high-mileage vehicles, could eliminate the out-of-pocket purchase penalty without a huge impact on the public purse. The costs of these kinds of programs would be offset by the reduced pollutants, and reduced fuel demand which is playing a part in driving up all energy costs.
To me it is clear that the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard is shamefully low, and should be increased, especially for the proliferating and wasteful SUV and light truck classes, and the EPA emissions standard should also be made more stringent, more in line with the California standards. If a Nissan Sentra CA can qualify as an SULEV with fairly minor modifications, why can't all cars? This would help level the playing field between the manufacturers, and help make hybrid technology as attractive to the manufacturers as it is to environmentalists. Hybrid technology applied to an SUV would be like having your cake and eating it too. A large SUV that gets 40 mpg would take most of the guilt out of buying such a vehicle - might actually boost sales.
In short, the IEEE article's conclusion seems misplaced. It is neither the economics nor the technology of advanced electric that needs improving - it is perception and policy that needs straightening out.
How About An Article Entitled, "Are SUVs Worth It?"
I would like to take exception to both the premises and content of the article by Lester Lave and Heather MacLean entitled , Are Hybrid Vehicles Worth It? I am a proud owner of a Toyota Prius and did my homework prior to purchasing the vehicle.
First of all, the premise, that vehicles should be produced solely on the merits of the cost of production and the return of profits to the manufacturer is fatally flawed. If this was the only motive in producing products we would still be driving cars without seat belts or safety equipment and they would all be "maximized for profit" rather than be a blend of safety and comfort for the public and profits for the manufacturers. I would like to see a corresponding article entitled , Are SUV's Worth It? . Certainly to the manufacturers who have "sold" the public through millions of dollars of advertising, the concept of inefficient, marginally safe, and environmentally irresponsible vehicles in order to maximize profits, SUV's are indeed worth it , .they make thousands of dollars on each unit sold! I would love to see an analysis on the cost of owning an Ford Explorer for commuting vs. a Toyota Prius !! Go through a stack of magazines and count the number of ads for SUV's and then try to find any for a Prius ! I believe that we all need to leave a better legacy than , we lived, made bunches of money and ruined our environment and the future of our children and future generations. In this context, Hybrid vehicles are and should be, a viable and efficient means of providing clean and safe vehicles while having the least possible negative impact on our world.
Secondly the content of the article is also extremely flawed. The first error is in the comparison of the Prius with the Corolla. Both of these are fine cars. However, please compare like vehicles. The Prius comes with Antilock brakes, a CD player, lightweight wheels, a 100,000 mile warrantee on the drivetrain and is much quieter and more comfortable than the equivalent Corolla. Even with a traditional engine it would be an upgrade to the Corolla. A call to the local dealer gave me a price of $17369 on the Corolla, a $2626 dollar difference as opposed to the $3495 quoted in your analysis. That amounts to a $869 "error" in your calculations !
The second error has to do with performance. Since when is 0-60 mph in 12.7 "sluggish" ? Maybe for sports cars but certainly not for "family" vehicles ! Most of the acceleration lag is in the first second or two of acceleration. Under passing and 20- 55 mph situations the vehicle is very spirited and I have yet to encounter any situation where I fell hampered by lack of acceleration!
The third error has to do with the "Social value" of abating emissions. Dollar values for pollution ? Figures for social valuation are based on the negative, measurable effects of pollution on our economy and don't even take into effect the social and health "costs". Furthermore, we are talking about pollution effects that have consequences measured in hundreds of years, now something that is here today and gone tomorrow. In my mind lessening pollution is "priceless". If you take an area of high pollution such as L.A. , Denver, New York, etc. the effect of thousands of Prius and Insight type vehicles would have a dramatic effect!!
Did you read your own data?, the CO emissions are 36 times lower than the already low Corolla!
The Non methane emissions are 12 times lower than the Corolla ! The Nitrogen oxides emissions are 124 times less than the Corolla ! These are real numbers, that show pollution levels an order of magnitude less than present day small cars, and many times more than that when compared to the average commuter vehicle purchased today! Now compare that to the emissions of the SUV that is quickly becoming almost 50% of the passenger fleet in the United States. In that context hybrid vehicles are our best investment toward cost efficient, energy efficient ultra-low pollution transportation.
Are Hybrid vehicles worth it? Definitely !! Any other conclusion, is based on a very short sited look at quick money, not at responsible transportation.
Assistant Instrumentation Innovator/Researcher
Electrical and Computer Engineering
Center for Bioelectronic Interfaces
1423 Engineering Hall
Madison, WI 53706-1691
Article's Broad Claims Serves Pollution AgendaEditor's note: Ron states that the views expressed in this letter are his own and in no way represent those of WDFA.
Dear Mr. Cherry,
The author's reliance on a referenced, but undescribed, analysis of the "social costs" of pollution makes this article's conclusions suspect. There was no text given to the cost of dependence on a single fuel source (petroleum) nor the dwindling supply of that limited resource. Add to this reliance on information from Texaco, The Sloan Foundation and General Motors.
Air pollution is a localized problem. Broadly averaging its social costs is a distortion. As an example, two thirds of air pollution in the Los Angeles basin is due to vehicle emissions. Given this, the value of a vehicle that reduces air pollution will always be much higher here.
If the article had more clearly stated its baseline assumptions about social costs it could have garnered interest and respect. But, the broad claims made in this article will be used out of context and uncritically to support the agendas of those it serves. This is not an article which stands reputably in the public debate on its important topic.
This is not the kind of article I would expect of a professional organization like the IEEE.
As it is, the IEEE appears to be fronting for the major auto manufacturers in their continued attempt to avoid responsibility for the health effects of their products.
Respectfully, Ron Fischer Senior Dev. Software Engineer Walt Disney Feature Animation
Hybrids Are The Answer
Great Web Site!
I have a couple of comments about the IEEE article (Are Hybrids the Answer?).
The Toyota Prius gets better gas mileage during city driving in comparison to highway driving (52 mpg city, 45 mpg highway). For the Corrola, the opposite is true (29 mpg city, 37 mpg highway). Therefore, the difference in fuel efficiency becomes greater in urban areas where HEVs are needed the most. Also, in urban areas (e.g. LA) most highway driving mimics city driving. This point was not discussed in the article and therefore I fear that the author did not address this issue appropriately. At the very least, the author needs to further explain their sensitivity analysis of fuel economy adjustment.
The author implies that the Prius will require more maintenance (the analysis assumes equal cost). I have been told by Toyota Engineers, that since the ICE is used less and since usually the ICE requires the most repairs in a typical car, the Prius will be less costly to maintain.
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