Hybridization as a First Step

This morning as I arrived at the Bella Center under the grey cloudy sky typical of Denmark this time of year, I noticed a very sleek Toyota Prius parked behind the platform where the bus drops off the conference goers. Instead of following the crowd in to the Bella Center I opted instead to go check out the car. On my way over to the car I was approached by Lars Peterson who is a freelance journalist currently employed by Toyota to help promote the third generation Prius at the conference. We go to talking and I mentioned that I was from the United States specifically Michigan so I had a very strong interest in automobiles. He offered to give me a ride in the new Prius so I could see how the Prius handled in a busy city like Copenhagen.

We left the Bella Center and proceeded down the street towards the parliament building. As we drove we talked about the car we were riding in. Lars told me that the car gets 25km/L or 51mpg around the city. Also, while in the city center the car mostly runs on the electric motor so it produces almost zero carbon emissions. I noticed that the car is very roomy and I felt very comfortable the entire ride. The car had very good acceleration and Lars had no trouble maneuvering the car through the busy traffic. I feel I can safely say that hybrid cars have more than enough power for the average commuter.

There are some downsides however. One the downside is that the back seat and trunk space are very limited. This makes it very difficult for a family to justify buying a Prius if they will not be able to use it for a family trip on the weekend. Another downside is the price. A well stocked Prius in the US costs something like $32,344. This is considerably more then what most people are willing to spend for a car this size. Despite the downsides there are many reasons to be optimistic about hybrid cars.

One reason I choose to be optimistic about the future of hybrids is because of the increased diversity of hybrids that are going to be released in the next few years. By 2012 there should be a wide range of hybrids from small cars to large pickup trucks available on the market. As the technology behind these vehicles improves and, more and more hybrids are produced prices will come down and make these vehicles more affordable.

So the difficult part is how do we continue to move people towards hybrid vehicles? I think the government has a role to play by providing tax incentives for people to buy hybrid cars. I also believe that automakers should take the lead in phasing out production of all non hybrid cars. Obviously this is a process that will take several years to accomplish. However, by embracing hybrid vehicles the US can decrease its dependence on foreign oil and it will also help reduce CO2 emissions from vehicle traffic. Most importantly, moving towards hybrid cars will further increase the money being put in to research for hybrid and alternative energy vehicles.

While hybrids are a good stepping stone towards sustainable vehicles, the ultimate solution to protecting the environment is to use all plug-in electrics that can be powered by renewable energy. Sadly, these vehicles are still a ways off from being mainstream. In the meantime we should try to attempt to buy hybrid vehicles (if it is economically viable), we should also try to use mass transportation (where possible) to help reduce our carbon emissions.

Written by BEN ROBERTS.

5 thoughts on “Hybridization as a First Step

  1. Mark Moldwin

    As a proud member of a two hybrid family (I drive an 05 Prius and my wife a 2010 Ford Hydrid Escape), I am amazed that hybrids aren’t adopted as a quick fix.

    Unrealistic (but illustrative) Cost discussion: $25,000 per vehicle times 10,000,000 vehicles per year = $250 Billion – about one-third the cost of the TARP program. So over a three year program it would completely support the US auto industry and dramatically reduce oil use/imports.

    Can’t wait until a plug in hybrid comes out and I can hook it up to my solar panel 😉

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  2. David Applbaum

    Hybrid gas/electric cars are more of a band-aid than a cure. Yes, it would be great if we all drove hybrids, but it’s not a way to fix the actual problem of fossil fuel consumption (or CO2 emission). The main savings in gas come from allowing you to drive “more car” with a smaller engine (since the electric motor helps). Like all cars, they are still tuned to maximize CO2 (minimize smog) when they are running. While I agree (I think) with Prof. Moldwin that TARP money is better spent on, well, all of us, I also think that the money he mentioned would be better spent on developing a viable fully-electric system. Here in Israel, a project is already in place to replace completely all gas-powered vehicles in the next decades (www.betterplace.com) through the development of cheap, viable electric options. The charging network is already being built. If you find the Prius encouraging, try reading this website! Select USA from countries at the top left to see English. Failing that, at least enjoy Colbert ( http://www.betterplace.com/company/video-detail/better-place-founder-ceo-shai-agassi-on-the-colbert-report ).

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  3. Ben Roberts

    Hey David,

    I agree that hybrids are not the ultimate answer for sustainable personal transportation. I would love to see all electric cars powered by renewable energy. However, realistically I don’t expect that to happen for some time yet. There are still some kinks to be worked out in electric cars. Also, improvements need to made to electric motors so they can power larger vehicles. From a practical and personal standpoint many people in the US still want to have big vehicles. At the present time there is no mainstream medium sized SUV that runs purely on electric power. I know it may seem pessimistic but, unless there is a massive spike is gasoline prices (North of $5 a gallon) I don’t think most Americans are going to be in any hurry to trade in their SUVs for compacts with electric motors.

    On the bright side, the cars I got a chance to ride around in yesterday make me very optimistic about the future of electric cars. I think it is something that I will see become mainstream in my lifetime. However, until that day comes I think hybrids are a good transition step.

    Ben Roberts

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  4. Pingback: Meet Your New Buddy « Alma College at COP15

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