Tuesday, July 19, 2005


I never claimed to be an environut, but this is downright disappointing.

The Toronto Star is reporting today that new models of hybrid cars being introduced into the market consume as much gas an regular V6 models. According to the article, the culprit is the fact that the cars being designed have a lot more kick to them, so the actual fuel economy is a wash.

So, I decided to check it out myself. With a Consumer Reports on-line subscription in hand, I went and checked out the gas milege on a number of vehicles, both hybrid and non-hybrid.

Honda Accord V6--Hybrid
CU's city/highway, mpg 18/37

Honda Accord V6
CU's city/highway, mpg 15/34

A difference of 3 miles to the gallon, in this model. Some, like the Toyota Prius claim to have better fuel economy, but there are suggestions that these fuel consumption numbers may be in dispute.

As Newsweek reported last year, a number of hybrid owners are complaining that the fuel economy promised by hybrid manufacturers was overstated. So much so that the Union of Concerned Scientists has called for the US Environmental Protection Agency to revamp the way they rate fuel economy.

In fact, they are saying that EPA fuel economy numbers might be overstated by over 30%.

This blogger has taken his disillusionment online. Many car buyer's guides are warning potential hybrid buyers to be weary of so-called "fuel savings".

From Car Connection:

"In fact, the results of ongoing operating tests conducted by the EPA of a dozen hybrid cars in its own fleet significantly contradict their posted fuel economy ratings. When last we checked, the best the EPA's fleet could muster was a cumulative average of 37.7 mpg for the Civic, 45.7 mpg for the Insight, and 44.8 mpg for the current-generation Prius. While this is certainly admirable fuel economy, it's still far below the cars' official EPA estimates that run as high as 51, 66, and 60 mpg, respectively for the model years tested."

And the car manufacturing industry has a lot to lose. For the first 6 months of this year, sales for hybrid vehicles were 2 and 1/2 times higher than the same period last year. According to Bankrate.com, hybrid sales in the U.S. are expected to climb to 200,000 this year, 260,000 in 2006 and 535,000 in 2011.

But let's put this argument aside for a moment. What about actual fuel consumption? Isn't that whast is at the heart of climate change?

From Environment Canada:

"Passenger vehicles emit various air pollutants including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM), carbon monoxide (CO) and sulphur oxides (SOx). Both NOx and VOCs are involved in a series of complex reactions that result in the formation of ground-level ozone, which is a respiratory irritant and one of the major components of smog ."

Okay, so burning fuel is the issue, right? Well it must be, because by 2008 all emissions for vehicles will be the same, hybrid or not. So, the government is taking steps to reduce emissions, but the big push is for Canadians to reduce the amount of fossil fuels they consume.

The answer is clear, according to Environment Canada:

"Hybrid vehicles provide the same speed, performance, and convenience of a regular car, without the pollution. The Honda Insight, Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid, and Toyota Echo are the most fuel-efficient models available on the market."

But wait a minute. The Honda Civic Hybrid has better fuel economy, but it has a smaller engine (1.3 L vs. 1.7 L) than a regular civic.

The new models coming out, such as the Lexus RX400h boast more "bang for the buck":

"The company promises the 400h will be both green and mean, with fuel economy in excess of 27 mpg and performance comparable to that of a 4.0-liter V-8 (hence the name), headlined by a sub-eight-second dash to 60 mph."

So, while it might be more fuel efficient, the manufacturers have increased the power, rather than create a model that has the same power but is more effiecient and burns less fuel. This might be the auto industry's response to complaints that models like the Insight and Prius were "gutless".

So, if fuel economy is overstated AND the new models offer more power as opposed to less fuel consumptions, why are these models being subsidized by the government?

From Hybrid Experience:

"Ontario offers a partial rebate of the Retail Services Tax (RST) with the purchase or lease of a hybrid electric or alternative fuel vehicle. Vehicles purchased after May 10, 2001 are eligible for a rebate of up to $1,000 of the paid PST.

Note: In order to receive your tax refund, you must submit an application. Download and complete the application form contained in RST Guide 702 - Vehicles Powered by Alternative Fuels."

According to the Ministry of the Environment, this program is one of the key parts of their plan to reduce emissions in Ontario. But let's do the math (green is good, red is bad):

So we're told that:


But the new trend seems to be:


We are also told that:


If Mike Harris is to be believed:


So, that means:


So, by my calculations, Ontario's taxation policy for hybrids will result in more smog, not less. The federal government has called on consumers to reduce fuel consumption to reduce climate change. But that worked in the "Prius era" (we think).

Now, especially if the new models keep coming out with larger and larger engines, hybrids aren't exactly the silver bullet as we've seen.

They have the same emissions as regular cars, they might not save fuel, and when they do, they make bigger engines which means they still burn the same amount.

But we continue to provide incentives to put more of these cars on the road.

Does this make any sense? Didn't think so.

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