Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Is a Hybrid Really Good Enough?

I admit it, I'm technologically challenged, overwhelmed even. I'm a pushrod-era gearhead, a living artifact.

That's why I'm appealing to more current technophiles for a bit of advice. Cars. Hybrid cars. I'm looking at replacing my decade plus old VW. I don't drive much. My regular transport, summer and winter, is my trusty BMW motorcycle. That said, there are times when I need a car especially coming from my little, out of the way town with its all but non-existant public transit.

So I'm looking at new wheels. Thus far I've been checking out hybrids - Ford, Toyota (Prius III and Camry) and Honda. They seem pretty impressive, a clear improvement over their straight gas cousins, but I'm not sure.

Is the hybrid the best way to go today or is there some wonder technology just around the corner that, within a year or two, will make me wish that I'd waited?

If you have any information or suggestions, let me know. Thanks.


Green Assassin Brigade said...

If you were a really heavy driver I'd suggest a hybrid or the new VW diesel which has better MPG than any of the hybrids but both option really do cost you a lot more upfront and a light dirver will never recoup the cost. If you can buy the carbon credits to cover the difference in fuel use and still save thousands it does not make a lot of sense.

AS much as I agree with green tech the total energy and pollution to make a car need to be considered as well as the energy use and end cost to the user. Improved maintainence and driving habits can save you as much gas/carbon on average as buying a hybrid unless you drive it a hell of a lot.

I really think electric vehicles will become ideal for about 20% of the public which have short and predictable driving patterns. The idea of a car that needs almost no maintainence is also really appealing and I suspect my next purchase will be a straight plug in for these reasons, but not for 3-4 years.

I also like hybrids like the volt where the gas engine only runs a generator and is not attached directly to the drive train. This type will wipe the floor with todays hybrids in a couple of years as it makes no sense to build a car with two drive trains electric and mechanical. Unfortunately none of this type have hit the market, the volt, volvo and others are working on them but it will take a while.

In the mean time I'd suggest a normal but fruggal used gasoline car like a corolla, civic, yaris/echo that will easily give you 6 years to see how the other techs unfold.

The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks GAB. Maybe I'll just keep the VW plugging along a few more years. My primary transport is a BMW motorcycle anyway. The car is only used in really foul weather or for handling cargo beyond the capability of the bike.


Anonymous said...

Backing up a bit what GAB says. The net difference in carbon emissions of a hybrid over even a gasoline burning 4 cyliner miser is not that much.

Diesels have issues with particulate emissions (there was an interesting study published recently that I can't find right now, grr, that covered this). Bit more on that here

Batteries have issues with the need for rare earth elements, maintenance and toxic disposal issues.

Maybe a pure electric like the Volt would offset the battery issue moreso, but for my money I'mm looking at small gasoline powered cars (maybe even the Smart, its now gas in Canada instead of diesel. Which made it more affordable.)

I'm a big fan of single technology solutions, pure gasoline, pure electric, pure hydrogen etc. The hybrid vehicles have all the issues related to any given technology, but the pluses are reduced by the increased weight of two power sources, drive trains etc., not to mention the added complexity of maintaining such a beast.

The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks Catelli. This isn't going to be easy. Then again where I live there aren't a lot of local dealers - the Big Three and that's it.

Nanaimo, 40 miles south has the full array of Japanese brands plus Mercedes. Everything else is either two hours away in Victoria or an even longer ferry ride away to Vancouver. The more esoteric the more likely it is to be too far distant to support.

Mark said...

I'm not a big fan of hybrids. They introduce new problems, for what is a really minor gain in fuel economy.

Buy something built in Canada. It's not just a labour thing, it's also better for the environment.

It's been estimated that roughly half of the carbon emissions from a vehicle comes from the manufacturing, rather than from driving. Building a car is extremely energy intensive. Ontario may have some way to go in terms of shutting down coal-fired power plants, but we're still better than most industrial countries.

Also, any car that's shipped from overseas gets here by boat. Freighter ships are horrible environmental polluters.

A car with decent milage, that's build in Canada, is a better environmental choice than a hybrid that comes from Japan.

The current generation of hybrids and electric cars also use either nickel or lithium batteries, which one could also say a fair bit about as well (and not good stuff.)

The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks for the input Mark. Definitely food for thought.

Anonymous said...

Big 3 only huh? Well you can buy a Pontiac G3 wave and still feel good about yourself (5.7 L/100 km on the highway and 7.9 L/100 km in the city compare with the Prius, 4.0 L/100 highway 3.7 L/100 km city. Yeah you save double in the city, but if you hit the highway the benefits fall off dramatically. A Prius really only benefits the downtown urban driver.)

Now as to whether its a quality car or not, that's another question! But I've only owned GMs all my life (I can't afford the "quality" Japanese or European brands) and have largely been satisfied.

The Mound of Sound said...

I'm looking for a car that I'll be content with for 10 to 15-years. I'd keep the 11-year old VW except that someone else needs it more than I.

Environmental concerns aside, I'd love to carve the mountain roads around here with a 911 or Boxter but, tempting as they are, the 911 is beyond my means and the Boxter really isn't ideally suited to my needs (although I understand it gets fairly decent fuel economy when driven sanely which defeats the purpose... oh anyway).

Nope, I'm not ready for sackcloth and ashes at my age. I've done that already. Still I quest for some reasonable compromise. I'm told the Mini Cooper S is really fuel efficient and is a blast to drive. Just not sure I'm still up for getting into something that, well, low.

Maybe I'll just put it all off for a year. Thanks everyone.