The truth about hybrid cars

2004/11/18 at 09:38

As I’ve read about gas/electric hybrid cars over the last couple of years, it’s stuck me that some of the energy- and emission-saving features that they tout aren’t specific to hybrids, specifically an engine that turns off when you stop and/or put the manual transmission in neutral.
In Switzerland, for example, the law says you must turn off your car’s motor at a stop light or when waiting for a train to cross. I’ve heard that is why European stoplights go red-YELLOW-green: to give motorists notice of impending green light so that they can start their engines.
This article, The Truth About Hybrids, addresses this issue:

[M]anufacturers try to…add to the hybrid’s headline-grabbing mileage figures by the extensive use of non-hybrid gas-saving technology. Engine shut-off at idle, electric power steering, harder and reduced rolling resistance tires (at the expense of comfort and traction), reduced option content, reduced engine performance, and, in the case of the Ford, a continuously variable transmission (CVT) all help raise the cars’ overall efficiency.
Of course, if gas mileage is the ultimate goal, all of these strategies could be applied to a ‘standard’ car. A non-hybrid model with the equivalent modifications would significantly narrow the mileage gap with its hybrid sibling. In fact, in normal use, the margin between truly comparable hybrid and non-hybrid cars could be less than 10%– hardly enough to justify the extra purchase price.

My conventional Corolla gets 30+ mpg in city driving and almost 40 mpg on road trips. Therefore, I’ve not been that impressed with the supposed mileage of hybrids. For all their technological advances, they only get a few more miles per gallon (and according to the article, actual mileage of hybrids is not as good as the EPA numbers). Add a few of those features to my car, and I’d be right up there, too.
Related rant: One of my pet peeves is people who leave their cars idling when they’re stopped somewhere: talking on their phone in a parking lot, running in to a store for a minute, etc. I can understand leaving the car running if you’re sitting in it in hot Texas weather. Otherwise, it’s just a big waste of fuel. This morning, I was sorely tempted to try to educate a fellow patron of my local bagel shop when she came out to get in her car that she’d left idling while getting her breakfast.