NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 20, 2006

Hybrid cars are the hippest automotive fashion statement to come along in years and they can make you feel like you're doing something good, even when they're doing nothing at all, says Jamie Kitman, New York bureau chief for Automobile Magazine.

Consider the Toyota Prius, the car that started the hybrid craze. It is lauded for squeezing 40 or more miles out of a gallon of gas, but only when it's being driven around town, where its electric motor does its best work, says Kitman:

  • However, on a cross-country excursion, the Prius's mileage plummets on the Interstate.
  • In fact, the car's computer, which controls the engine and the motor, allowing them to run together or separately, is programmed to direct the Prius to spend most of its highway time running on gasoline because at higher speeds the batteries quickly get exhausted.
  • The gasoline engine works so hard that less fuel would be used if Toyota's conventionally powered Corolla is driven.

For people who do most of their driving on highways, the Prius's potential for fuel economy will never be realized and its price premium never recovered, says Kitman.

Moreover, most of the world's big car makers have shied away from building hybrids because they are an inelegant engineering solution, says Kitman:

  • The use of two energy sources assures extra weight, extra complexity and extra expense -- as much as $6,000 more per car.
  • The hybrid car's electric battery packs rob space from passengers and cargo and although they can be recycled, not every owner can be counted on to do the right thing.
  • Additionally, an un-recycled hybrid battery pack, which weighs more than 100 pounds, poses a major environmental hazard.

Source: Jamie Lincoln Kitman, "Life in the Green Lane," New York Times, April 16, 2006.

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