Hybrid Cars Versus Conventional Cars
Frank J. DiMauro
November 25th, 2008
Richard W. Berman 1
Hybrids, Hybrids Everywhere...
As Americans become increasingly more concerned about global warming, many are making choices about the vehicles they drive based on fuel economy and tail pipe emissions. Hybrid sales have increased 313% from 84,199 cars in 2004, to 347,102 in 2007. Driving a hybrid might make people feel better for helping the environment, but is it really better for our planet? The answer it seems, is, “it depends.” It depends on who is doing the evaluating and what the criteria are. When I started this analysis, I expected to find overwhelming evidence in favor of one category or another. Instead what I found was a lot of confusing information. The confusion arose because different groups focused on different aspects. Most analysis focused either on economics, (i.e. how much money the owner would save over time) or consumption, (i.e. how many gallons of fuel the car would consume over its useful life), but in nearly all cases, the analysis was confined to the period of time during which the car would be driven. What went into making the car and what happens to it after it’s been abandoned by its owners was largely ignored, and I suspect it’s ignored because it’s so hard to evaluate. I found this to be a very consistent theme in the rating systems of all products I’ve researched. Even Energy Star, which ranks household appliances, focuses on energy consumption during use, but the energy to produce, estimated useful life and eventual disposal, is largely ignored. This leads to an incomplete and sometimes inconsistent perspective to consumers. One organization that focuses on the full life cycle analysis of automobiles is CNW Marketing in Bandon, Oregon. Founded in 1984, CNW is a for profit market research company that specializes in the automotive industry. In 2001, they pioneered a life cycle analysis of the auto industry in an annual report they called, “Dust to Dust”. 2
In this report, CNW collected data on the energy consumed to plan, build, sell, drive and eventually dispose of a vehicle. They followed it from initial concept to the junk yard. They even took into consideration small details such as the distance from manufacturing plant to dealership, the average distances between employees’ homes and the factory where the cars were built. They also considered the method of transportation employees take to get to work, (i.e if mass transit was available and utilized). Worth noting is that CNW excluded economics from their analysis. The economic cost to build a car and run and maintain it was completely ignored. Also ignored were the environmental impacts of materials. If one car required less energy to produce but incorporated hazardous substances, it scored better than a car that required more energy but used benign materials. CNW focused strictly on energy consumption. For 2007, 284 cars were evaluated. The average energy rating for all cars was 2.54 per mile. The car with the highest energy cost was the Mercedes Maybach, with an energy factor of 15.97. The car with the lowest energy cost was the Mercedes Smart Car, with a score of 0.58. Worth noting was the average for all hybrids was 3.41, which was significantly worse than the average. The best in the hybrid group was the Toyota Prius which scored 2.19. According to their analysis, hybrid vehicles cost more in terms of overall energy consumed than conventional cars. One of the reasons hybrids score so poorly is because of their complexity to manufacture, repair, replace, and dispose of batteries and electric motors, (which exists in addition to a conventional engine). Hybrids are also more difficult to recycle. For example, the Honda Accord hybrid scored 4.23, but the regular non hybrid Accord with a conventional gasoline engine scored a 1.96. Over the course of its lifetime, the Accord hybrid is expected to consume more than twice the...
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