Monday, July 30, 2007

Forgive the Hummer? Hardly!

Is the massive Hummer really more eco-friendly that the hybrid Prius?

According to CNW Marketing Research of Oregon, it is. A controversial study by CNW holds that hybrids, at least the technology being fielded today, are more energy intensive throughout their lifetimes than Detroit's most massive gas-guzzlers. From the Globe & Mail:

CNW identified 4,000 "data points" for each car, ranging from the energy consumed in research and development to energy consumed in junkyard disposal. It calculated the electrical energy needed to produce each pound of parts. It calculated greenhouse gas emissions. It calculated mileage, too - adjusting for the differences between rush-hour Tokyo and rural America.

To keep it relatively free of technical jargon, the company expresses energy requirement as the dollar cost of energy for every mile across a vehicle's anticipated years of use - "U.S. dollars per lifetime mile." Thus it reports the lifetime energy requirement of a Hummer as $1.90 a mile; the lifetime energy requirement of a Prius as $2.86 a mile.

It reports by model name and by category. For 22 models of economy cars, the average lifetime energy cost is $0.85. For six models of pickup trucks, it's $2.58. For 14 models of smaller-sized sports utility vehicles, it's $2.07; for nine models of larger-sized SUVs, it's $3.98. For 10 models of gas-electric hybrids, it's $3.65.

Toyota, however, still has some of the greenest vehicles on earth. The Scion has the lowest energy cost of all at 48 cents a mile. The Corolla, at 72 cents, and the Echo (Yaris), at 77 cents, are also in the best-on-earth class. Low-energy competitors include Dodge's Neon (64 cents) and Saturn's Ion (67 cents). Cars with the highest energy requirement include the Rolls Royce ($10.97) and the equally elegant German-made Maybach ($15.83).

I'm not convinced. Hybrid technology is still in its infancy. New technologies tend to be flawed and need years of refinement. What is also not apparent is how much of the energy consumption attributed to these various machines is "fossil fuel" energy, the dirtiest kind? If you want to compare apples to apples, it's the Yaris at 77 cents to four bucks for a full-size SUV. That, in my view, is where the focus needs to be.

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