Episode 14 — Hybrid Cars

If you’re like many people, you’d like to help do something about climate change through the choices you make and the way you live. Celebrities and the mass media (among others) are presenting hybrid vehicles as a big step forward in this regard.

But left out of this rush to technology is any discussion of the fact that not all hybrids are equal. Some are little different from conventional cars, and consume fuel with equal gusto. Others offer dramatic improvements in fuel economy, but may not appear at your local automotive dealer’s showroom floor for years.

What’s a well-intentioned, but budget-minded potential car buyer to do?

Listen in to this episode, and I’ll give you a quick education in hybrid vehicle technologies. You’ll be able to tell series from parallel, and electric from hydraulic with aplomb — and more importantly, understand some of the challenges that lie ahead for this technology, and how to tell when a hybrid vehicle’s price premium makes it a worthwhile investment.

This episode is the first in a series on ways you and I can help fight climate change. If you’re not subscribed to the podcast, you can listen to the episode via an inline player (Flash required) here:


You can also directly download the episode using this link. For sources, and those who’d just like to follow along, the episode’s show notes are here….

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11 Responses to Episode 14 — Hybrid Cars

  1. sdclark2 says:

    As an owner of a 2004 Toyota Prius (since 01/2004 so almost 4 years) I have been very happy with the vehicle – with a “real world” mileage experience of around 40-45 mpg depending on which family member drives, what we’re doing, and the season. That being said, when I’ve had my Saab station wagon in for service at that dealership, the GM folks are pushing the idea that a hybrid (and I think the Prius in particular) is less enviornmentally friendly than an alternative fuel car or even a fuel inefficent car such as even the GM Hummer. They are referring to the life of the vehcicle, the disposal of the batteries, and so on. I’ve found a few posts on this, but haven’t dug very deep nor found what I considered to be reliable information.
    As always I appreciate the thoroughness and thoughtfulness of the podcast but would love to hear more about the “lifecylcle footprint” idea that our vehicles make and how we can minimize that. (Perhaps fixing my Saab’s turbocharger so that it doesn’t spit out burnt oil on startup would be a step I personally could take – I doubt GM considers that…)

  2. darek says:

    According to research at http://clubs.ccsu.edu/recorder/editorial/editorial_item.asp?NewsID=188

    “The Prius costs an average of $3.25 per mile driven over a lifetime of 100,000 miles – the expected lifespan of the Hybrid.
    The Hummer, on the other hand, costs a more fiscal $1.95 per mile to put on the road over an expected lifetime of 300,000 miles.”

    After reading this article I don’t want Prius as it is.

  3. Sam Wise says:


    When I run across items like this (with dramatic and counter-intuitive “findings”), I’ve found it helpful to do a little opposition research for perspective. A few minutes of google work dug up some information that tends to cast doubt on the link you cite:





    Short version: this article was written on the basis of a shaky study, by a reclusive shop — no peer review, all source data & methods under wraps as “proprietary.” Lots of room for cherry picking and other mischief in this approach to doing business. The first clue is the 300k mile lifetime for the hummer, vs. the 100k mile lifetime for the Prius (that’s the lifetime for the battery pack, not the car as a whole).

    Still, it’s good to see people looking at life-cycle costs. The last link, BTW, is a more thorough look by an MIT group at life cycle costs of various vehicles — not a fast read, but interesting when you have time to dig through the details.

  4. darek says:

    I like the ideas of environmental friendly vehicles very much. The Prius is first significant step forward but there is still lots of work to be done. I have to admit that conspiracy theories are appealing to me 🙂 so did the article I’ve mentioned. According to recent research made in Amsterdam (The Netherlands) 40% of air pollution in the city is generated by 10% of cars older than 10 years. Another problem are SUV’s which will get over here very high tax next year. The Netherlands is flat country with no place where you will not get to with ordinary car. My point is that next to developing new green vehicles we could save on pollution by eliminating unnecessary waist of fuel by cars with oversized engines, solving traffic congestion problems etc.
    The battery from Prius is pollutant in manufacturing then again by replacing even after 10 years of use. I can imagine that 10 years old Prius with death battery will be also waisted because cost of replacing the battery will be higher than new car.

  5. Pingback: Sorting Out Science » Blog Archive » Googlediving, hybrid vehicles, and energy consumption

  6. Sam Wise says:

    FYI — just wanted to point out that I just uploaded a new post, attempting to bring our little discussion to the attention of other readers (who may not make a point of looking at comments). It’s right here.

  7. car fanatic says:

    hybrid cars are the future.i see them everywhere.

  8. Dave Jones says:

    Just found your site & I love it.
    Especially the episodes, Keep it up..
    I’ll keep coming back.


  9. Dr. Al says:

    With all of the fuzzy science surrounding hybrids and EVs, it certainly bodes very well for those who want to cling to the duplicity of the big oil and automaker’s PR spinmasters, but personally it offends me to have to pay the extortionist current gasoline prices. So, I cut to the chase. See http://www.physicslablh.com/futureDesign.htm

  10. Hi,

    Hybrid cars from my opinion will be the best technology in Automotive world. Why? Don’t forget the minimum pollutants, and the minimum noise! As it is said “It is an environmental friendly!”. Not only so, but the hybrid cars technology still under developments. I’m sure in just few years, all the current problems which appear in the current hybrid cars vehicles will dis-appear. In addition it is NOT fair to compare Prius by the GM Hummer. As I said, hybrid cars technology still in the first phase. Many developments will be carried out on hybrid cars vehicles.

  11. Aaron Cake says:

    Everyone always forgets the Honda Insight, the first hybrid available to the public. Mine is 8 years old at this point yet still returns between 65 and 75 MPG city, and above 85 MPG highway. After a 200KM highway drive it’s not unusual to see mileage in the low to mid 90s.

    The podcast was a decent listen though. Just found it randomly through a Google search and gave me something to listen to while I OCR’d about 85 pages. But you’re the first person I’ve ever heard refer to NiMH as “nickle metal hydrogen”.

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