“I’m afraid you’ve gotten a few things wrong in your ideas about hybrid cars, as well as a few things right.”
“Of course, I’m going to focus in on the misinformation you have here, but just to let you know, I thought this was well written and (although mistaken) an interesting read.”
Hello Mike, and welcome to the site. I appreciate the kind words about the writing, and I am always happy to be corrected when I am wrong. That said, I will respond to your points individually.
“First, you don’t seem to fully understand how hybrid cars work. If we focus in on just the Prius, a full hybrid (because you did), the electric motor and the gas motor alternate between powering the car. The electric motor powers the vehicle at low speeds or when stopped, while the gas engine kicks in at higher speeds.”
“The gas engine can recharge the battery pack, but that’s the least efficient way of doing it. It does happen when the battery pack gets low or when the car is traveling at higher speeds, but the best way is to recharge the battery through regenerative braking. Not only does it save wear and tear on the brakes, but it also recaptures some of the energy you used to accelerate the car in the first place.”
An admitted oversight. I implied that hybrid cars operate in a similar way to diesel-electric train engines. Nonetheless, while the method discussed was incorrect, the fact remains that ALL the locomotive energy comes from the gasoline engine. This will remain true until the plug-in hybrids come to market. But as I said, even then, there are environmental and technological concerns. The North American power grid can barely handle summertime demand as it is. What is going to happen when people have their cars plugged into that grid as well as their air conditioners? All that aside, the fundamental difference between a hybrid and a normal car is one of power transmission between the engine and the wheels, not one of power generation.
“Also, the gas engine, when it is not recharging the battery, will shut down when the vehicle is stopped. This eliminates the wasted gas from idling.”
I completely agree, regenerative braking and auto-off at idle make the vehicle even more efficient! By recapturing potential kinetic energy at the wheel and converting it back into electricity that is stored in the hybrid’s power transmission (batteries) instead of converting it to heat as a normal car does, the hybrid should be even more fuel efficient. And yet, with all this, VW still manages to make diesel vehicles that achieve 10% better fuel economy. A normal car cannot make use of regenerative braking, but auto-off at idle could be incorporated, further increasing the diesel’s efficiency.
“The Prius does have a smaller, more efficient engine. But to compare it against the diesel engine is misleading, since a diesel engine is more efficient than a gas engine.”
The point I was trying to make is that hybrids are not the more environmentally intelligent choice. While hybrids are more efficient than normal gasoline powered cars, they are also much more complex systems, with complex environmental and economical end-of-life requirements. VW decided that the hybrid system was too complex to be practical in the marketplace, and has come up with alternatives that achieve equal or superior fuel efficiency. Even more, they’ve managed this at initial purchase prices that are comparable to existing vehicles – both hybrid and normal.
“Unfortunately, the diesel engine has a few issues that are hard to overcome in the US. First, the cost of the diesel engine is more expensive than the gas engine. Second, despite being more efficient, diesel costs more in the states, somewhat pushing back on the savings you would like to see when you fuel up.”
Diesel engines are more expensive than normal gasoline engines, but this increase in cost is comparable to the premium one pays to own a hybrid. In terms of a hybrid-diesel comparison, its a wash.
It is my contention that diesel is more expensive the world over. As diesel engines achieve approximately 35% greater efficiency than a normal gasoline engine, diesel remains economically superior to gasoline as long as diesel is less than 35% more expensive than gasoline.
“Then there’s the emissions/ smell/ reputation problem.”
New VW diesels meet and exceed the most stringent emissions requirements in North America and Europe. The smell/reputation problem is more serious, but it has been overcome in Europe, and VW still manages to sell large number of TDI Jettas in North America. It would be a matter of education, but nonetheless a difficult hurdle to overcome. VW is addressing this hurdle by introducing highly efficient smaller engines like the 1.4TSI, which achieves comparable mileage to the 1.9 TDI without the societal resistance of the diesel engine.
“Still, many would call for a diesel hybrid as an even more efficient choice. Too bad that means you need to add together the extra cost of a diesel engine, plus the extra cost of the electric motor.”
And this is why VW will not bring the diesel hybrid golf to market – no matter how loud the crying from Treehugger.
“Also, please do not use the Hummer vs Prius argument. It’s been dismissed as an embarrassing study by a Marketing company. Look it up on Slate before you try to use it again.”
I looked up and read the Slate response to the hybrid/hummer issue . It is an interesting read, and does somewhat soften my opinions on hybrids, but not enough to change my mind. While the article does dismiss large parts of this study, it does gloss over some relevant facts. And while the original report was poorly written, it nonetheless did raise factors that hybrid enthusiasts deflect or ignore completely. So I am perhaps prepared to accept that hybrids are more environmentally friendly than Hummers. I’m not sure how impressed I am by this.
At this time there exists no cost- or environmentally-effective way to recycle the batteries in a hybrid. I have read that Toyota has started a recycling program, and I consider this a very positive step in the right direction, but the fact remains that the cost – but economical and environmental – of recycling the power transmission system of a hybrid is far higher than the cost of recycling the power transmission system of a normal car.
The article also mentions that opponents of hybrids often ‘unfairly’ amortize the costs of building such a recycling infrastructure over the comparatively short production run of hybrids. This is a legitimate environmental and economic cost associated with hybrids, and dismissing this cost is disingenuous at best.
“One last point, batteries always need to be recycled. Whether you talk about the smaller ones you find in all cars or the battery packs you see in hybrids. Most of all cars built today get recycled. I don’t see how that’s relevant.”
As stated above, the relevance is environmental. The one small battery in a normal car contains far less dangerous material to recycle at the end of the vehicle’s life. Because there is no efficient way to recycle any of these batteries, the fewer we produce and use, the better. The power transmission system of a normal car, in contrast, is readily recyclable using existing systems.
“Hybrid cars do have their issues, but you haven’t raised them here.”
I think I have raised several valid points about hybrids that have not been addressed adequately by the technology.