With the price of oil spiraling out of control, newly developing nations putting an increasing strain on natural resources, and the effects of our past environmental indiscretions yielding the results of their physical trauma, going "green" has become the new trend. And in a country that created the car culture, the ethos of eco-friendly has spread to the automotive industry in the form of hybrid vehicles. In theory, a hybrid approach sounds great. By using a regenerative electrical drive system coupled with a traditional gasoline engine, cars can have much higher fuel efficiency while producing less emissions. This sounds like the answer to all our problems! Or does it?
Here are the problems with current hybrid technology. (I'm going to single out the Toyota Prius for this discussion.) First, unless you drive exclusively in a city setting, you will not reap the benefits of the electric motor. That is because once the vehicle reaches speeds above roughly 20 mph, the electric motor shuts off and the gasoline engine takes over. This means my Honda Civic is just as (if not more) fuel efficient roughly 60% of the time as a higher priced Prius. Second, by relying solely on the regenerative braking system to charge both the electric drive battery (which powers the electric motor) and the 12V battery (which runs everything else), a person must drive for sometimes up to 10 hours in order to recharge the 12V battery. What are the consequences? If you have ever dealt with a dead battery in heavy traffic, then you know how dangerous and frustrating such an event can be. And last (but certainly not least), what do we do with all those 100 pound batteries when they eventually fail? Better yet, what is their life expectancy and how much will they cost to replace? Nothing like thousands of pounds of good ol' e-waste sitting around adding to our pollution problem.
In short, hybrid vehicles provide at best a stop-gap to try and help wean us from our insatiable petroleum fix. However, there many potential pitfalls that make them nothing more than yet another hollow status symbol in a country obsessed with one-upsmanship.