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Another Stab At Sorting Hybrid Hype From Reality 633

Attila Dimedici writes "Eric Peters makes the case that hybrids have been over-hyped. His argument is that in order to sell people on hybrid cars, automakers have emphasized the energy efficiency of hybrids in ideal conditions and failed to tell people that in most ordinary driving conditions they will not come close to meeting the numbers given. He refers to a recent case where an individual has chosen to forego membership in a class action law suit and has instead chosen to go to small claims court. He suggests that there is a significant chance that she will win there and that this will open up all of the manufacturers of hybrid vehicles to similar lawsuits. The article was on a rather partisan website, so I am curious what factors he has chosen to overemphasize to make his case. (Or what factors he has chosen to ignore to the same end.) I know that Slashdot has a large contingent of hybrid and EV supporters who are well educated on the subject (as well as a large contingent of those who are not so well educated)."
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Another Stab At Sorting Hybrid Hype From Reality

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  • First Anecdote! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 07, 2012 @01:36PM (#38622664)

    My wife and I both have hybrid cars (a prius and an insight) and we both consistently get mileage in the mid 40s.

  • by ElBeano ( 570883 ) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @01:43PM (#38622726)
    Hybrids have been out for a long time. It appears to me that they are increasing in popularity in spite of the naysayers. Every single person that I know who has a hybrid (maybe a dozen) is pretty happy with the fuel economy. None have complained about having to fork over money for a new battery system yet. One could argue concerning the high manufacturing cost, but I think that that has come down enough relative to selling price to achieve parity with non-hybrid vehicles. The technology continues to evolve and any battery breakthroughs will make them even more attractive.
  • Re:First Anecdote! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @01:54PM (#38622856)

    The big part is that a lot of the "savings" on a Hybrid assume you are driving it like a Hybrid should be.

    Rather like all cars. They advertise a certain fuel efficiency, driven properly. Most people gun the accelerator off every stop, try to do 80 in a 55 zone down the freeway, and do other things that reduce their fuel efficiency. Meanwhile, you get people who do things like this [hypermiling.com] that can squeeze a lot more than the "normal" fuel efficiency out of even a standard vehicle.

    The biggest thing with Hybrids is that they are designed to invert the normal efficiency ideas. Usually, you get a lot more efficiency driving a steady rate on the freeway. It's one reason they list dual "city/highway" mileage targets on the sales brochures. With a hybrid, that's not the case, because a lot of the efficiency gains have to do with recapturing energy from stop-and-start driving.

    From TFS: "His argument is that in order to sell people on hybrid cars, automakers have emphasized the energy efficiency of hybrids in ideal conditions and failed to tell people that in most ordinary driving conditions they will not come close to meeting the numbers given."

    We could easily rewrite as follows:
    "His argument is that in order to sell people on compact cars, automakers have emphasized the energy efficiency of compacts in ideal conditions and failed to tell people that in most ordinary driving conditions they will not come close to meeting the numbers given."

    TL:DR version: if you drive a Hybrid like a fucking sports car, you'll get sports car fuel efficiency. If you drive a Hybrid long distances on the highway, guess what, you'll get the raw gas mileage of the gas engine only minus whatever it's wasting on air conditioning and electrical generation.

  • by Ichoran ( 106539 ) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @01:54PM (#38622868)

    The article author claims, "To get a steady 40 MPG (let alone 50 MPG) out of any hybrid -- and I have driven all of them, extensively -- you must keep your speed under 50 MPH and treat the accelerator as if it were a Fabergé egg."

    I happen to own a 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid, and the _very first time_ I drove it on the freeway at moderately consistent speeds at 60-65 MPH, I got over 40 mpg. I still do that routinely.

    So, either he's lying that he has "driven all of them, extensively", or he's lying about what you need to do to get that mpg rating. Probably the former--it's easy to drive a few in a not-very-MPG-friendly way, get disgusted, and then overgeneralize. Easy, but not terribly forgivable for a journalist.

  • by onyxruby ( 118189 ) <`ten.tsacmoc' `ta' `yburxyno'> on Saturday January 07, 2012 @02:02PM (#38622944)

    This is a good case for not mixing science and politics. There are certainly cases where hybrids function better (inner city, garbage trucks, buses etc). These work well because the type of driving for these scenarios is ideal for regenerative braking. This makes for a best case scenario for allowing the hybrid to recover energy and work at it's peak. These cases justify the environmental price of the hybrid because the environmental costs is offset by their use.

    When you consider the environmental cost that a hybrid requires (the Prius is well documented on the Internet for what is required for it's battery packs) if your not using a hybrid in the right conditions you are arguably harming the environment. This is because you are exacting an environmental cost that is not repaid through your usage scenario.

    My point is most consumers are better off getting a high efficiency gas or diesel engine car (Cruze, Jetta etc). Most consumers do not have a driving scenario that is ideal for a hybrid car. It has been decades since most people lived in core cities instead of suburbs or the country. The bottom line is that different technology is better suited for different drivers. One is not fundamentally better than the other in all cases.

    People are letting politics try to dictate science, when science should always be free of politics and allowed to stand on it's own merits.

  • by dannyastro ( 790359 ) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @02:06PM (#38622972)
    I have 107,000 miles on my 2004 Prius and the battery is fine. If it needs a new one after 10 years, well that's great longevity! Prius is one of the most reliable cars according to Consumers Report (and my experience too), so needing to pay $3K after 10 years for the battery is not so bad from an overall cost of operation POV. And since many people don't keep their cars more than 10 years, they won't face the battery issue at all (assuming they bought their car new!).
  • by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @02:09PM (#38622984)

    The problem is all people are asking is, "is it a hybrid?" The question they should be asking is, "How hybrid is it?"

    Honda Civic Hybrid '06
    Gas engine: 85 hp
    Electric motor: 13 hp

    Saturn Vue Hybrid '07
    Gas engine: 170 hp
    Electric motor: 15 hp

    Toyota Prius '07
    Gas engine: 76 hp
    Electric motor: 67 hp

    There are plenty of cars that were technically hybrids, but when I bought a hybrid in 2009, the Prius was the *only* one which got a significant amount of power from its electric system. The rest were basically just gasoline engines with a little toy electric motor duct taped to them. The '09 Civic Hybrid I tested was particularly bad: larger gas engine than a Prius, 1/4 as much electric power, so it gets worse mileage, and with so little horsepower you feel like you're putting your life on the line every time you take an on-ramp.

    Look beyond the hybrid label, and check out the size of the electric power system. It matters.

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @02:11PM (#38623012)

    Uh, yeah. But you can get the same in a non-hybrid coasting down as well...

    But a conventional car doesn't regenerate gas in the tank on downhills to help you get over the next hill, while a hybrid will recharge the battery.

  • Objectivity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by br00tus ( 528477 ) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @02:19PM (#38623080)

    The Slashdot community is for the most part logically and scientifically oriented. We believe in the scientific method, and an understanding of the universe built on an accumulation of experiments built on logical and testable explanations for empirical data, observable phenomena and so forth. And in many fields of endeavor, there can be general agreement about things. For example, it's accepted almost by consensus that the nearest know star is the Sun, and that the next nearest known stars are the three in the Alpha Centauri system. Aside from a handful of cranks like Gene "Time Cube" Ray, virtually everyone accepts this. If somehow we found a star nearer than the Centauri ones, which was too faint to notice before, or right next to a much brighter star and unnoticed or whatnot, if the measurements were good and clear enough, I'm sure soon again everyone would be in agreement that this new star was the next closest one to the earth. It is far away, affects little here, and there's no reason for people to argue over it.

    On the other hand, ExxonMobil is the most profitable company in the country. It made $30 billion in profits last year, off of $354 billion in revenues. It is #2 on the Fortune 500 after Wal-Mart (which had more revenues, but about half the profits in 2011). Chevron and ConocoPhillips are #3 and #4 on the list.

    If hybrid cars were effective, that would dent the revenues of these three companies whose revenues were collectively three quarters of a trillion dollars. Does anyone think that this fact might possibly, conceivably hurt the objectivity of an article, released in a very partisan political magazine like the American Spectator?

    Honestly, it doesn't even warrant attention, other than debunking. These types of articles belong in actually objective magazines like Consumer Reports or something, which could tell you which hybrids were good or weren't. Just from anecdotal evidence, people I know with hybrids have been telling me they are spending less at the pump. Which is exactly what worries magazines like American Spectator, which work to protect monopoly capitalism over actual economic growth in capitalism. We see these forces at battle all the time - the RIAA and MPAA want to go from a world where friends lent records to one another to one where that is impossible. The oil companies want us stuck on oil reserves until they run out and junky old gas-burning cars - and this also hurts industry, which would be helped by cheaper energy. AT&T and Verizon are more concerned with preserving their monopolies than having a growing wired and wireless network. Karl Marx said capitalism starts out as a progressive force, economically and socially, but eventually tends to get more and more mucked up in defensively protecting trusts and monopoly instead of smashing shibboleths to allow growth and scientific advancement. I'd say there's plenty of evidence around nowadays that he was right about that.

  • Re:First Anecdote! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @02:28PM (#38623154) Homepage Journal

    I think there's a tendency to stomp on the gas for anyone whose time value exceeds their gas cost. I can cut an average of over 5 minutes per day off my commute by stomping the gas. Call that 2 hours per month. Does it cost me an extra $240 / month in gas an maintenance? No.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 07, 2012 @02:45PM (#38623342)

    The instantaneous fuel efficiency gauge one finds in vehicles is not a good source of feedback on driving styling. The reason is that it takes the current speed of the car and the current throttle position to compute the MPGs. Naturally when you accelerate from a dead stop, such a gauge will suggest that accelerating faster is less efficient at a given moment. Moreover, when you brake the gauge often tells you that are being very efficient.

    Both of those indications couldn't be more wrong. Even with regenerative breaking, the least efficient activity is applying the brakes. Whether you leap from a dead stop or crawl out of it also does not make a big difference--indeed the peak efficiency of a gasoline engine happens around 4500 RPM. That equates to a pretty quick start and acceleration.

    The most efficient driving style is always to accelerate quickly to your 'cruising' speed and then hold the speed constant. One of the reason quick acceleration has a bad reputation is that people frequently accelerate to speed well above their average speed, then break, then repeat. Its a mistake to put the blame on the quick acceleration, its irregularity that's costly.

  • Re:First Anecdote! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fred911 ( 83970 ) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @02:47PM (#38623388)

    Mid 40's is nothing new. Honda CRX's were doing it in the 80's. In the mid 70's the Mercedes 300d's were getting upper 30's with ac on, on the highway. In the mid to late 80's their SD's were doing the same with a lot more power. Many, many of those cars are still in service to this day with 100's of thousands of miles experience. Many even running bio.

  • Re:First Anecdote! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 07, 2012 @02:55PM (#38623494)

    ...I can cut an average of over 5 minutes per day off my commute by stomping the gas...

    Wow...just, wow.

    I take my dog for a walk on the beach, everyday, for an hour. If I walk faster, I can be home 5 minutes earlier.

  • Re:First Anecdote! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @03:05PM (#38623626) Homepage Journal

    If I'm home 5 minutes earlier, I can walk my dog for an hour and five minutes. Or play with my kid 5 minutes longer. My commute is not anywhere near my top 10 list of things to enjoy.

  • Re:First Anecdote! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @03:17PM (#38623764)

    There's your first mistake again. Or rather, a mistake of how fucked up US city design is.

  • by NuShrike ( 561140 ) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @03:24PM (#38623838)

    People conveniently forget the air-quality benefits of hybrids. There's a huge lifetime difference that can be quantified in health improvement (healthcare cost reductions), lifestyle improvement, etc.

    It's not all about the MPG.

  • by Lord_Jeremy ( 1612839 ) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @03:47PM (#38624034)
    Uh, one would think that if a hybrid vehicle's gas mileage is roughly the same as a conventional vehicle, they both produce the same emissions from burning the same amount of fuel...
  • Re:First Anecdote! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @04:06PM (#38624224) Journal

    That was your first mistake

    0) Your mistake is assuming/implying when I say "I don't think" it means I'm not thinking. Read the rest of my post including the second line, AND the rest of the thread I'm replying to for context. I was claiming that there's not going to be a big difference in MPG between slow and fast acceleration, despite common assumptions about "jack-rabbit" starts.

    1) I said modern, so the transmission slippage loss is about 5% not 10%. And nowadays there's these new fangled things you may not have heard of, called lock-up clutches: http://www.autoshop101.com/forms/AT02.pdf [autoshop101.com]

    to prevent this, and to reduce fuel consumption, the lockâ'up clutch mechanically connects the impeller and the turbine when the vehicle speed is about 37 mph

    Below that speed you get the "slippage" loss whether you're accelerating slow or fast. If it's 4% (slow) vs 5% (fast) it's not going to make a big difference to your MPG, which was my point (hard acceleration vs slow).

    2) For modern engines whether you accelerate fast or slow doesn't make a big difference to the efficiency of the engine, unless you're red-lining them. In fact the maximum engine efficiency for many cars is not between 1000-2000rpm, but higher - even 4000+rpm for some cars (Ford Focus). The OP's car is a turbocharged GTI, I won't be surprised if it's more efficient at higher RPMs. For such cars if you accelerate very slowly, you'd be operating the engine at the lower efficiency band for a longer time, so it's not going to be so much more efficient than accelerating hard even if accelerating hard means staying in 2nd gear for longer. Hence it's not going to make a big difference to your MPG, which was my point.

    3) About 30 years ago[1] apparently BMW did some research where they found that brisk acceleration was more efficient than slow acceleration. Some hypermilers claim this still applies.

    [1] http://goo.gl/7kwJd [goo.gl]

  • by Bing Tsher E ( 943915 ) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @04:59PM (#38624662) Journal

    Crowd into sardine can high density housing alongside a rapid transit corridor, of course, like the overlord city planners intend. If you want to see a tree go to a fucking park on your day off and look at one. Above all, remember this: Obey!

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @05:34PM (#38624968) Journal

    In theory, because hybrids use a gas engine that runs at a constant speed, it's more efficient and pollutes less.

  • Re:First Anecdote! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TClevenger ( 252206 ) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @07:01PM (#38625438)

    When any car company relies on "EPA Testing" to make it's mileage claims, they are based on the same unrealistic driving conditions and restrictions as the hybrid manufacturers.

    Car manufacturers are REQUIRED to use the EPA numbers. It's ILLEGAL to use anything else. So why are the car manufacturers being sued again?

  • Re:First Anecdote! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @10:06PM (#38626458)

    And no less realistic than the Nordic States or high altitude location in Europe. Modern diesels run just fine in the winter and start jut fine too. Will my fellow Americans quit spewing rhetoric from the 70s?

  • Re:First Anecdote! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Spoke ( 6112 ) on Sunday January 08, 2012 @04:41AM (#38627852)

    Just how long is your commute and poorly timed are your traffic lights that you can cut 5 min/day from your commute by stomping the gas?

    Unless on the freeway, I find that the majority of the time I catch up to the guy "stomping the gas" at the next light because he's had to stomp the brakes at the next red light.

    And are you really finding that 5 minutes noticable?

    Personally, I find that many people turn into arrogant, self-serving, aggressive douche-bags when behind the wheel of a 2-ton automobile. And they'll use any excuse to blame that behavior on something else when driving aggressively is clearly linked to increased accident risk. (and yes, scientific studies back this up)

"The eleventh commandment was `Thou Shalt Compute' or `Thou Shalt Not Compute' -- I forget which." -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982