Are Hybrid Cars Environmentally Unfriendly?

I just came across an article titled Doubts Cast on Hybrid Efficiency (HT: Signal vs. Noise) that essentially says that Hybrids are less efficient than their conventional counterparts. Interesting.

A research study was performed that calculated the total energy cost it would take to plan, build, sell, drive and dispose of a vehicle from initial concept to scrappage. When we only consider the fuel efficiency of a car, we miss out on a lot of stuff. And it turns out that far more energy goes into building a hybrid vehicle than into a conventional vehicle.

For example, the Honda Accord Hybrid has an Energy Cost per Mile of $3.29 while the conventional Honda Accord is $2.18. Put simply, over the “Dust to Dust” lifetime of the Accord Hybrid, it will require about 50 percent more energy than the non-hybrid version, CNW claims.

And here’s a shocker:

while the industry average of all vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2005 was $2.28 cents per mile, the Hummer H3 (among most SUVs) was only $1.949 cents per mile. That figure is also lower than all currently offered hybrids and Honda Civics at $2.42 per mile.

The conclusion is that things are always more complicated than what we’re led to believe:

Basing purchase decisions solely on fuel economy or vehicle size does not get to the heart of the energy usage issue.

12 responses to “Are Hybrid Cars Environmentally Unfriendly?”

  1. That’s really interesting information. I wonder how the hybrid vs non-hybrid deal will work out in the long run. Car manufacturer’s really need to find a ecologically friendlier option than what we have currently.

    On a random note, my Dad recently finished what he and Toyota believe is the first turbo-charged hybrid. It had to happen sometime!

    There’s some video of it here

  2. One of the cool things about this article is how it challenges us to think outside of the box. I’m concerned about environmental issues, but there’s no way that I could afford a hybrid car.

    But this helps reinforce to me that coming up with more ecologically friendly cars just skirts the real issue: our car-centric lifestyles have no future and we need to start investing our creativity, energy and money into different ways of living that do not require most of the personal driving that occurs today.

  3. Its totally a choice thing.
    If you’re a car owner, like we currently are (thanks mom!), then see if you could live for 2 weeks without using it at all.
    How crippled would you be?
    Could you buy groceries? Get to work/school/church?
    Visit friends?
    If you can’t imagine surviving without a car, then it’s likely because the neighborhood you live in is poorly designed. So i guess to be completely honest, you’re at fault for choosing to live there.
    Here in St. Stephen, you can sort of survive without a car because it’s such a small town, but it’s an ass-ugly place to walk if you need to get errands done.
    Being a small town, people are particularly stupid. The only gym in town, which several of my peers go to, is actually outside the town on the trans-canada hwy, as are several services and shops. Its retarded.

    One last thought:
    Nobody except transit-riders and cyclists are legitimately able to complain about traffic being bad.
    uhhh, are you driving? Then here’s some news: you ARE traffic.
    So keep on complaining about yourself.

  4. Sorry to take over the comments, I really should get my own blog.

    That said, I just felt that I needed to explain why I think car-centric cities suck so much.
    Basically it’s an equality and social justice issue. When cities are designed for cars, not people, we create a society that promotes social segregation and inequality.

    Not everyone has a car. This may be for several reasons. One, they may not have enough money to buy, insure, and fuel a car, as this is quite a large expense. This can include anyone from students to drug addicts to single mothers to full-time community volunteers like our dear Maria.
    Also, a large part of the population simply cannot drive. This includes anyone under 16, most people over 70, and almost anyone with a mental or physical disability.
    So now we basically have these homogeneous suburban enclaves where nobody is exposed to anyone else, let alone anyone different from them. In it’s pervasiveness, this type of social climate fosters ignorance of the ‘other’ and we are naturally inclined to fear the unfamiliar.
    I have met several women who have lived in Winnipeg all their lives and are actually afraid to go downtown.
    Ah yes, let’s create a culture of fear! That’ll be great for humanity.

    End rant.

    On the embodied energy topic, I would recommend a book that is on my own to-read list, called Cradle to Cradle.

    Basically it talks about evaluating the entire life cycle of our products and following their complete energy cycle rather than evaluating its efficiency based on only a segment of its existence.

  5. Well, that’s a good expansion of thinking “outside the box,” but I was just trying to avoid feeling guilty for not having a hybrid car ;)

    Just kidding, good stuff oh wise and passionate wife of mine.

  6. F#$% trying to live a conscientious life. Every time you think you’re informed, and therefore doing something more ethical/responsible, you find out you, in fact, were not informed and therefore not as ethical and responsible as you thought.

    I vote for care-free hedonism.

  7. Matt raises a good point, but overlooks (at least) one thing.

    Not all forms of energy are created equal, and in this case the energy required to create a vehicle can (in theory) come from a renewable/environmentally friendly source whereas the energy required to fuel the vehicle must, in practicality, be of the fossil-fuel sort.

    Granted, less of the energy that goes into production comes from such ‘noble’ sources as hydro, solar, etc (dare I say ‘nuclear’ around here?), as it should, and it is possible that fuel source for the vehicle itself could be renewable, like biofuels. However, effectively using sources such as biofueuls for transport remains unrealistic, and the point should be made that it is/will be easier to convert our production energy away from fossil fuels than it will be for transport.

    I was going to dwell on how my sister is turning into an irrational socialist, or at least an unrealistic idealist, but since I’m an unrealistc idealist, too, just of a differnt sort, so I think it’s easier to just let that slide… :D

  8. Good point Trav, but from my understanding, most of the energy that goes into any end product has come from fossil fuels. eg: the removal, refinement and transportation of raw materials.

    And of course, the point would seem somewhat moot: even if we could produce cars out of entirely renewable resources, what would be the point since their functionality still requires nonrenewable fossil fuels?

  9. This was also mentioned on the UK’s Top Gear with Jerremy Clarkson. he had a Hybrid for a weekend and caluculted it did less miles to the gallon than a diesel car. He then took into consideration the extra materials to make the car, the extra fuel and time to make the car and the extra parts required to be disposed of at the end of the vehicles life.

    When the total figure is calculated he stated go out and get a diesel.

  10. Does it make any sense that it would take less energy (“dust to dust”) to produce and operate an H3 than it would a standard Accord or Civic?
    I can’t access the article, but whatever they are trying to sell with that article, I’m not buying.

  11. Dave: Thanks for calling attention to the article’s demise. I also find it difficult to believe that an H3 would take less energy than a standard Civic, but I’m less interested in that claim than in realizing that hybrid cars are only a pseudo-solution to the hard implications of the developing energy shortage.

    In other words, it’s time to structure a life in which cars are an occasional luxury rather than a daily necessity.

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