GM and Hybrids

Ok, I don’t get it.  The new Malibu Hybrid gets less than 10% MPG improvement over the non-Hybrid version in both city and highway mileage.  The Toyota Camry Hybrid shows a 57% improvement on city and just under 10% on highway mpg versus that non-Hybrid version.  The Honda Accord Hybrid shows a 25% improvement on city and 13% improvement on highway versus the non-Hybrid.  In absolute terms, the Camry Hybrid gets the best city mileage and the Accord Hybrid the best highway mileage.  Even if the price increment over the base engine for the GM system is lower than for either Toyota or Honda, the long term hassles (complexity related reliability issues, increased maintenance costs) as well as the price premium on the vehicle don’t make it worth the tiny fuel efficiency improvement.  If I buy a hybrid it will be to gain a significant improvement in fuel economy, not because I want to make a social statement.  On a similarly weird note, one of the ways GM improved mileage in the hybrid versions of the Tahoe and Yukon SUVs was to shave a few hundred pounds from the base vehicle (which offset the weight of the hybrid system).  Put those weight reductions back into the base vehicle and (a) you’ll do more to improve fleet MPG than you’ll get from trying to sell the hybrid and (b) the fuel economy difference between the non-Hybrid and then Hybrid will once again be trivial.

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2 Responses to GM and Hybrids

  1. joeschmoe says:

    Hybrids, in general, are a farce. Other than severe stop-and-go service (think city buses), they don’t make much environmental nor economic sense. Better are clean diesels, and yes they do exist. Most of Europe drives diesel cars. Almost double the mileage, virtually no carbon monoxide. Oh, and no hazardous battery pack nor the weight of two separate drivetrains. Better would be a diesel-electric, but I’ve not seen any progress on these in the automotive world since Volvo shelved theirs in 2003. Diesel-electric is a very well-proven concept, dating back to WWII.

    Not sure who is to blame on this one. Carmakers obviously don’t want to spend the money on R&D, US consumers are solely focused on up-front cost of cars and fuel (even if you get more miles per gallon with a diesel), and Lord only knows what our government’s up to with regards to this.

    • halberenson says:

      I have yet to see a diesel in the same car get double the mileage, but they are indeed much better than their gas equivalents. The problem for diesel in the U.S. is twofold. First, they have a long poor reputation here for pollution, being rough and noisy, being underpowered, and being more expensive to purchase. And yet they’ve been very successful in pickup trucks, so it isn’t purely an American bias against diesels. Second, diesel fuel in the U.S.usually sells for far more than regular unleaded gas. Sometimes it is less than premium unleaded, but often it is more. Occasionally much more. This makes it hard for people to know on a week to week basis if they would be better off with diesel or gas. On top of that, in some parts of the country diesel is a little hard to come by (whereas in the west, where diesel pickups are popular, nearly all stations carry diesel). For example the BMW X5 diesel is a $9000 addition over the entry-level X5, basically 20%. And that gets you 10% better mileage. It’s hard to imagine this ever paying off. The more mainstream Volkswagen Jetta isn’t much better. You can get in with a base model at $15515, the SE is $18725, and the TDI is $22775. The TDI gets 27% betetr mileage than the base but costs almost 50% more. The numbers look a little better on the SE to TDI comparison, but the bottom line is that Diesel doesn’t make any more economic sense than a hybrid.

      And speaking of hybrids I do believe there are places in the U.S. where they make sense. If you’ve ever driven on the Long Island Expressway during rush hour (or even most other times), or driven around Manhattan, then you know what I mean. That’s the same as your city bus example. Basically hybrids make sense when city driving dominates and absolutely no sense when highway driving dominates, since the primary purpose of a hybrid is to recover the energy lost to braking. If you don’t do a lot of braking then you carry around a lot of extra hardware that doesn’t do a damn thing.

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