Jun 17, 2005 (From the CalCars-News archive)
Posting at UCS's hybridcenter.org Blog
by Jason Mark, Director of the Clean Vehicles Program
Plugging into Hybrids?
If you own a Prius or Escape, you’ve probably tried this game: how far can you drive solely on electric power before the engine turns on? (Don’t bother trying with a Civic or Insight…they don’t have an all-electric mode.) I usually can make it a few blocks if my car is warmed up. But imagine running in electric mode for your entire commute—and not using a drop of gasoline to do it. That’s the promise of plug-in hybrids.
While Detroit’s ad gurus on Madison Avenue have gone out of their way to convince you that you don’t plug in a hybrid car, the reality is most people would probably prefer to. Drive in quiet, all-electric mode around town and save the gas for long trips. Recharge the car at home while you sleep and reduce trips to your neighborhood’s multinational corporate representative (a.k.a. the corner gas station). Reduce emissions of smog-forming and global warming pollution—unless your house is powered by an Eisenhower-era coal plant.
If plug-in hybrids are so attractive, why can’t you buy one? Perhaps it’s a revival of the GM-Standard Oil-Firestone conspiracy where the companies got together to buy up (and then rip out) urban rail lines that stood in the way of automobility. While oil companies certainly stand to lose from plugging in, it’s not likely to put a dent in their profits anytime soon. And it’s not that the technology doesn’t work, either: university professors, home hobbyists, and now DaimlerChrysler have demonstrated that it can be done.
The question is whether automakers can make money selling plug-in hybrids. Installing enough batteries to run a car for moderate distances may add thousands to the sticker price. Time will tell whether the extra you pay at the dealership will be offset by lower fuel costs that come from plug-in’s more efficient use of energy. The technology’s advocates certainly think so, and some argue (correctly) that not everything has to pencil out for the pocketbook to make good sense.
In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye on progress with plug-in hybrids and ensure that policies for cleaner cars reward the technology for its environmental advantages.
Posted by: Jason Mark (a.k.a. "The Management")
June 15, 2005
We appreciate this thoughtful comment. It's also timely, since plug-in hybrids are starting to get attention in the national media. And we're very pleased that the Hybrid Center's "Under the Hood" area has a "Hybrid Checklist" at http://www.ucsusa.org/hybridcenter/page.cfm?pageID=1698 that shows the different kinds of hybrids and awards more wheel-checks to plug-in hybrids than any other hybrid type. (If you want to know more about plug-in hybrids, check out the resources and links at http://www.calcars.org, and to read our 3-page Fact Sheet about the PRIUS+ conversion.)
Of course, as Jason suggests, these cars' benefits (and the costs of high-emission gasoline cars) extend well beyond the individual owner's payback to society and our world. Plug-in hybrids, with gasoline as the "range extender" fuel initially, progressing to biofuels and cellulose ethanol, can represent a highly effective way to reduce greenhouse gases from cars and light trucks (and other vehicle types) using existing technology. That's why policymakers and car buyers want them, and, we hope soon, automakers, will build them.
For a quick response to that big issue: why an electric car is cleaner than a gasoline car even on the dirty national (50% coal) grid see section 3 of the CalCars Vehicles page.) And to keep things lively, we've added a link to this blog at http://www.calcars.org/kudos.html
Posted by: Felix Kramer | June 17, 2005 02:02 AM