The Frontal Cortex

Sucky Hybrids

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the vast majority of hybrid cars aren’t worth the surcharge. You’d get much better mileage with a smaller engine, especially if it was a clean diesel. What worries me about hybrids is that they seem to satisfy this bourgeois lust for environmentally friendly brands – nothing says upper class liberal like a Prius parked in a Whole Foods parking lot – and yet typically don’t represent significant environmental improvements. We assuage our conscience without doing much good. Now Forbes has compiled a list of the least fuel-efficient hybrids:

In fact, the fuel economy of many new hybrids is almost indistinguishable from that of their conventionally powered counterparts.

Take the GMC Sierra Classic 15 Hybrid. Its V8 engine and hefty 5,000-lb. weight keeps its gas mileage to 16 mpg–only one mile per gallon more than GMC’s non-hybrid version.

If you want better mileage, buy a smaller car with a less powerful engine. It’s that simple. Sure, it requires a little sacrifice – you can’t drive a big truck – but when did we become so averse to even a modicum of sacrifice? You can compare the revised fuel mileage of hybrids here.

Update: As Jennifer points out in the comments, not all hybrids are bad investments. The Civic Hybrid and Prius both get excellent mileage, in large part because they’ve got such small engines. I also didn’t mean to sound so snarky about the bourgeois pleasures of shopping at Whole Foods. I love Whole Foods. What other supermarket sells raw milk brie de meux and frozen fava beans?


  1. #1 Coturnix
    September 20, 2007

    A few months ago a got rid of the big van and got a tiny Corolla – lovely mileage!

  2. #2 Coturnix
    September 20, 2007

    A few months ago I got rid of the big van and got a tiny Corolla – lovely mileage!

  3. #3 cephyn
    September 20, 2007

    Unless you do primarily stop-n-go city driving. Then a hybrid makes a big difference.

  4. #4 Jennifer Ouellette
    September 20, 2007

    Ah, the hybrid backlash rears its ugly head yet again — the naysayers have got their very own bandwagon. 🙂 Yes, the marketing claims are exaggerated. I still get better mileage with my Prius than my fiance got with his corolla. I bought one when I moved to LA several months ago, precisely because of the kind of driving conditions I knew I’d be facing. It makes a huge difference, as commenter Cephyn points out, in the stop-and-go conditions that typify this city. But even when I take it on road trips, I still average a bit more than 44 MPH. And it’s not just about fuel efficiency and saving gas money, you know. When traffic slows to a crawl (or stops altogether), the gas engine turns off and the electric kicks in. If I have to be stuck in traffic, at least I’m spewing a little bit less exhaust into the air.

    And driving habits play a role too: more gradual acceleration, less sharp braking, coasting down hills rather than pressing on the gas all the time — these are tiny things that add up over time. What I get from the Prius more than anything is enhanced awareness of how what I do, even slight actions, can have a cumulative effect.

    Will hybrids singlehandedly save the planet? Of course not. But they won’t hurt the planet either, at least not any more than conventional engines. And now I must head out to Whole Foods to hang with all the other Yuppie “Pious” owners… yanno, ’cause we’re all alike… 🙂

  5. #5 Tony P
    September 20, 2007

    The interesting thing is the complexity of the current hybrids. In essence they married an electric motor to the drive train and either/both can supply power to the drive wheels.

    Why not do what they’ve done on trains since forever – run the engine at optimal speed so it’s burning the fuel completely and use it to electrically drive the wheels.

    Better yet, make the gasoline or diesel engine a little 2 cylinder coupled to a generator to charge a battery bank and drive exclusively off the battery bank. You’d get more energy from each gallon of fuel because again the engine can be operated at optimal efficiency.

    I’ve thought about creating just such a system using an early model Ford Explorer. If I can get at least 40MPG out of it I’ll be a happy guy. And for short trips of 100 to 200 miles you’d just run pure electric. The gas engine would only be for longer distances.

  6. #6 Ryan
    September 20, 2007

    While I think the prius is a pretty spiffy vehicle. I’m a bit ambivalent about owning one. The popularity of the prius will drive development of even better hybrids and maybe even electrics. However, the personal value is not clear. I drive a Mazda 3, which is about 10k cheaper and gets excellent mileage. On a road-trip I can get 36-37 mpg. Around town I’m sure it is more like 29mpg, but it is still good. Even better, when I run to work or ride my bike I get inf mpg. People need to give up their obsession with driving everywhere and burn some renewable carbohydrates.

  7. #7 Daniel
    September 20, 2007

    I recently bought a Scion box-car. I love it, and it gets good milege. Having a car, and going anywhere I want, whenever I want, is imporant to me, so smaller and smaller vehicles do not bother me at all, just so long as I can “go.”

    I considered buying a Prius, but according to my calculations, gas would have to be over $4.00 a gallon before it would be worth it. I do also agree that driving habits could cause a wide variation in gas milege for hybrids. People who like to accerlate right up until the moment that they stop, probably should not drive a hybrid.

    I recently saw a “SmartCar” in traffic, one of those tiny European cars. It looked great. I would rather drive one of those than be stuck at home.

  8. #8 bigTom
    September 20, 2007

    Like Jennifer, I own and appreciate the Prius. Yahoo finance yesterday had a piece on cars with low ownership cost (five year total expenses). Prius, and Honda Civic hybrid both got good marks. Whether it makes sense for you personally depends upon the kind and amount of driving you do. Hybrids have a big advantage for lower speed, and stop and go driving. They are also ready to drive sooner in cooler weather. And for those who care, emissions are usually several times lower.

    A lot of high end cars are being sold with minor hybrid capability, these are very unlikely to be economical, but then these owners didn’y purchase for lifecycle costs.

    It remains to be seen, what sort of premium plugin hybrids will cost. They need much more capable battery technology then todays hybrids, and that might be costly.

  9. #9 Mike
    September 20, 2007

    Tony, GM may beat you to it with the Volt concept. They hope to get it out by 2010, but it won’t be a truck.

    What they fail to tell you about in that article is those hybrids that are ‘sucky’ are also the ones that are being retired. The Accord Hybrid, for instance, is going away. So is the GMC Sierra hybrid, if it’s not already gone. GM is switching to a two-mode hybrid system with their upcoming Yukon which is said to improve fuel economy by 25%.

  10. #10 Siamang
    September 20, 2007

    I don’t have a hybrid, but I like em.

    Why is it that the “Anti” hybrid folks always talk about gas mileage?

    I live in LA. We’ve got the worst smog in the nation. I, for one, am happy about all the latte-drinking, whole-foods shopping libruls driving priuses. It means the air I’m breathing is on its way to being cleaner, not dirtier.

    ***Disclimer**** Meanwhile I drive my gas-guzzling, fume-belching American muscle-car. Suck tailfumes, yuppie scum!

  11. #11 triviality
    September 20, 2007

    There’s a 40+ mpg, clean diesel alternative to hybrids, the Smart, hitting the US market early ’08. Been in the EU for around 10 years, and are generally regarded as quite good quality and values.

  12. #12 jeffk
    September 20, 2007

    Well, gas mileage would correlate to smog.

    I find it frustrating when the mileage debate becomes a discussion of how good of an investment it is. A big change that will have to happen to coming generations if we’re to sustain ourselves is that we’ll have to grow up and learn to make decisions in more complex ways than “how much will it cost me?”

    I think the near-term future should be plug-in hybrids. Sure the power has to come from somewhere, but it reduces smog, since power tends to be produced away from where people live, and also, at least some of the power can come from renewable sources.

  13. #13 Epistaxis
    September 23, 2007

    I’m in Silicon Valley, and I can confirm that the Prius is a status symbol – there’s almost as many of them on the roads here as Mercedes.

    The nice thing is that they care, though, and they’re spreading the meme. That paves the way (so to speak) for the next generation of hybrid owners, who actually do increase their gas mileage. “Nay-sayers” should always be clear that they’re steering everyone in that direction (so to speak) instead of just pooh-poohing the whole enterprise.

  14. #14 sex shop
    December 22, 2007

    There’s a 40+ mpg, clean diesel alternative to hybrids, the Smart, hitting the US market early ’08. Been in the EU for around 10 years, and are generally regarded as quite good quality and values.

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