Are Hybrids the Cure-all We’ve Been Looking For?
Mar 28, 2007
As part of an effort to appear more “green”, the federal Conservative government recently began offering rebates on the purchase of new cars, like hybrids, which use less than 6.5 litres of gas for every 100 kilometres driven. The basic rebate will be $1,000 and will increase by $500 for every half-litre reduction, to a maximum of $2,000.
Combine that with the $2000 provincial rebate already in place in Manitoba and it looks as though a hybrid vehicle would be the logical choice for any new car buyer these days.
But are gas-electric hybrids really the saving grace for our planet?
While hybrid vehicles do help us slow our use of fossil fuels, they don’t eliminate our reliance completely. And depending on a number of factors, they may not get the sky-high mileage people were hoping for when they first chose to go hybrid.
Part of the reason is that people don’t understand the technology they’re buying. Vehicles like Toyota’s Prius use an electric battery combined with a small gas engine. The electric motor is capable of accelerating at speeds up to 15mph all on its own, while giving the Prius’ tiny gas engine some much-needed “oomph” when you stomp on the gas pedal. The end result is a car which gets much better mileage in a stop-and-go city like Winnipeg.
But that does depend on your driving style. If you’re prone to repeatedly hitting the accelerator from light to light, the gas engine will kick in sooner and work harder than if you had applied smooth, even acceleration. And at high speeds the gas motor comes in to use more frequently. This is why many hybrid owners have been dismayed by fuel economy that undershoots the best projections by as much as 10 – 15 miles per gallon.
Another downside is that extreme weather can wreak havoc with hybrid mileage. That’s because the batteries used to drive the electric motor work less efficiently when the mercury drops below 0 – a common occurrence during a Manitoba winter.
Should a hybrid be your next car?
If you’re car shopping, don’t forget that there are plenty of other efficient vehicles now being made that aren’t hybrids. Some are using more efficient transmissions or cleaner diesel engine designs to gain fuel economy. If better winter traction is important to you, consider an all-wheel-drive car or a crossover SUV instead of a truck-based SUV.
If you feel you must buy a hybrid to put your conscience at ease, by all means, go right ahead. There’s no denying that they deliver better fuel economy than their gas-only counterparts and the technology is only getting better. I’m just not ready to believe that they are some kind of panacea for our gas-guzzling ways in North America. After all, they still rely on the same non-renewable energy source that we’ve been using for over a century.
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