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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Unintended Consequences of Hybrid Vehicles

Comments (101)

I heard a "superb" cynical statement today.  I have no idea if it is factually correct, have no data (empirical or anecdotal) to support it, but it is such a great potential example of unintended consequences that I thought it was worth putting out there.

The statement was "While hybrid vehicles make us feel better, they actually do more harm than good because they result in more driving." 

The follow up thought is that for hybrid cars to really work (at today’s efficiency levels), people still need to modify their behavior and drive less (e.g. relying on public transportation or carpooling.)  However, once you’ve bought a hybrid, you suddenly feel like you are doing your part and subsequently drive more!  This additional driving adds up across the system and increases total system fuel (and other resource) consumption.

Ponder that the next time you get in your hybrid.

  • http://www.lasica.com Scott Lasica

    Another point on this that I heard (but also don't have data to back up) is that the manufacturing process for the batteries in hybrid cars actually damage the environment more than if you bought and drove a non-hybrid car. Apparently the waste created as well as the fuel costs to ship the parts all over the world create a large amount of dangerous waste and emmissions. Here's an old summary of a study that shows that for the overall lifetime of a car, hybrids are actually worse than hummers. http://www.reason.org/commentaries/dalmia_2006071

  • http://www.altgate.com FN

    It's the “light cigarette” argument (smokers just inhale more). Although I doubt that enough hybrids have been sold for this effect to emerge. Today a hybrid comes at a premium not a discount (if people were looking for lower cost per mile they would buy a mini or other small / cheap car). So that would imply that hybrids are being bought by rich folks who are “doing the right thing” and thus the marginal cost savings are unlikely to change behavior.

  • http://friendfeed.com/jonofsonoma Jon Erickson

    Interesting but I have not had that desire, I still want to ride my bike first and really question myself when I start up my hybrid car. I hate paying $4.50 a gallon, I don't care if I am getting 50 mpg or 25. But this price is putting our energy policy front and center.

    • http://www.oneminutemba.com Jeremy Liles

      I agree with Jon. I bought a hybrid because I wanted to get the best mileage I could *when I had to drive*, but I take steps not to drive (such as living where I can walk to most of the merchants that I need to visit regularly). I would hope that the people who purchase hybrids are doing it thoughtfully, first trying to minimize their driving as much as possible, then trying to be more efficient when they must drive (including driving less aggressively and being mindful of efficient speeds).

      But this is a good illustration of a larger point, that the economics of environmentalism can be pretty difficult to figure out at times. I think only a massive investment in public transit (very unlikely in this country) will make a huge difference w/r/t auto use.

  • http://neekolas.tumblr.com Nick Molnar

    A country with 100% hybrids is still a country 100% dependent on oil.

    • Gerald

      Dependent, yes – But of course with much less demand for oil. It's a weaning process while we wait for other non-oil dependent technologies mature. I don't see anything wrong with that.

      • http://www.geekhabitat.com/ Shannon Moore

        People want a 100% solution or nothing at all. It's a wonder any scientific progress is made in the USA with that kind of non-logic. It's like saying chemotherapy shouldn't be used to treat cancer because it's so harsh on the patient and is not going to ensure their cancer-free survival.

  • MikeK

    Possibly another point to pounder regarding the purchase of a hybrid. Let's do some simple math, for fun. I drive an SUV which gets 14mi/gal. Yep terrible but the car is paid for and being a large SUV it has today basically lost all of its market value (i.e. driving it longer doesn’t affect its $0 market value). So for economic reasons should I switch to a better mileage car? I drive about 14k mi per year which translates to 1,000 gal of gas or $4,000 at $4/gal. If I buy a new car that gets me twice the mileage, I'll save $2,000 per year on gas money. The depreciation of the new vehicle though will be a multiple of that. Ok, then let's push the envelope. With a car that performs at 40mi/gal I would save $2,600. Well, still not covering depreciation. Conclusion? Amy is right. Don’t bother me with hybrids until gas prices are substantially higher.

    • http://www.oneminutemba.com Jeremy Liles

      Your analysis is correct for switching, however I was in a position where I had no car to begin with (lived in NYC for 8 years) so the choice was simply between buying a hybrid or non-hybrid. Both the US and Colorado have some nice tax incentives in place for hybrids, so I come out ahead within a few years given current gas prices.

      As a bonus, I can sneak up on people in parking lots.

      The only thing that makes me nervous is the whole battery lifetime/disposal issue that we're starting to hear about more often.

  • http://blogs.newsgator.com/inbox Nick Harris

    I don't drive anymore since I got my hybrid. It never even really crossed my mind to drive more. I also find that I offer to car pool more since I'm the only one of my friends with a hybrid. Instead of everyone in their own SUVs, we park those and pile into the hybrid.

    • Gerald

      Me too. I got my Honda Civic Hybrid last year since I needed a more fuel efficient car to drive to work. I don't think my driving habits or distances have become larger just because I get more mpg… I just save more compared to my previous car. Just to add, when going out for lunch, i usually volunteer my car so that other don't need to bring their cars (which aren't hybrids btw)… saves more gas that way too.

  • http://chrisyeh.blogspot.com Chris Yeh

    That systems reach dynamic equilibria is nothing new.

    Engines are vastly more efficient than they were 20 years ago, but we've chosen to use more powerful engines to power bigger cars, rather than going for mileage. Nonetheless, you won't hear anyone arguing that we should switch back to less-efficient, lower-horsepower engines.

    If hybrid technology reduces harmful emissions and cuts gas consumption, it is a good thing. If people choose to use it to power even bigger cars, well, at least they have the option to scale down later on. We didn't have that option with gas guzzlers.

  • http://www.angelsandpinheads.com Steve Murchie

    If the typical hybrid gets 2-4x the gas mileage of a standard car or truck, wouldn't hybrid drivers have to log 2-4x as many miles to just equal the aggregate consumption of fuel? I can't see that happening – hybrid drivers would have to be spending the better part of their lives in their cars. I know some pretty dedicated Prius fans, but even they have other things to do in their lives. Sounds like phlogiston logic to me.

  • mike y

    they study scott mentions is few years dated now. wonder if any new data out to consider overall carbon footprint of hybrid and regular vehicles. Anyone?
    brad, when are you going to join clean-tech venture wave? It is very exciting space. time to save the world?… and maybe a cheerleader in the process.

  • Tony Casson

    A lot of good thought here. The argument about the carbon footprint and total environmental impact of the hybrid has been hit hard in lots of publications on both sides of the issue with good points on both sides.

    I think Chris Y hits the nail on the head though. More hybrids = lower emissions and less money spent by people at the pump which is better for the environment and the economy. More demand for hybrids = more market entrants lowering the cost and advancing the technology's capabilities. I think that these are desirable outcomes and trust that they will be a net positive for the environment and society as a whole.

  • Preston

    The hybrid discussion is interesting. The effect Brad points out is really dilution of the benefit but as Steve points out it isn't going to amount to all that much dilution. Scott's point about the battery impact is where it gets interesting for me. A hybrid contains an internal combustion engine, an electric engine (with the battery as power storage), the mechanicism to switch between the two, and the electronics to manage the selection. This makes it a more complex vehicle with higher maintenance and all that goes along with that. When oil prices drive us to a laser like focus on fuel economy we tend to ignore the truly important issue of economic use of all resources (and I do mean to include the externalities of vehicle pollution). The all electric car is an attractive target. Maybe hybrids should be viewed as a “transitional” technology to the all electric vehicle as some view corn ethanol as a transitional technology to cellulosic ethanol.

  • Bill

    Wow – this post certainly got some opinions going! The hybrid dilemma also points to the fallacy of CAFE restrictions. On paper it sounds great – the evil auto companies are hoarding their secret mileage technology and forcing 15mpg SUV's on us. In truth, if GM had a 25mpg Suburban, I think we'd be seeing it now. The problem with CAFE is that it works the wrong curve in the equation: CAFE increases supply, rather than decreasing demand. In other words, making the auto companies increase their mileage makes it cheaper for us to continue our bad habits, making driving 15,000 miles/year more affordable. What govt. mandates should be doing is affecting demand – raising taxes to the point of pain (and $4.00 gas seems to have started that) where the market starts to sort itself out.

    There is a case to be made for the govt. to raise taxes so gas is even higher at an artificially stable price for a set amount of time (say, $8.00 for 7 years), let the commodity market function underneath that price, return stability to gas pumps and force us, the users to make hard choices.

  • Aziz Grieser

    Back when I first started my blog, I wrote a lot of provocative posts in the hopes of shocking the shit out of someone like Brad, so he might pay attention to me and my company. Selfish and shameless, but the honest truth.

    Well, my best posts were my first, and I actually wrote about solving this problem in my very first blog entry. I still believe it is the right solution, and you can see it in the comments above.

    http://imagdg.com/?p=6
    (The date is actually December 2006, from my old blog.)

  • http://dandunn.org Dan Dunn

    When I ran for state representative we had a couple debates. My opponent was proud to report that he was one of the first in town to buy a hybrid, and he and his wife were on the waiting list for their second.

    The fact that I didn't own a car and biked to work didn't appear to matter to him – he had a hybrid, and that was that.

  • Jud Valeski

    This is the Tivo effect. Tivo was supposed to make us watch less TV (skip commercials). Study after study shows we watch more TV b/c we think we're doing it more efficiently.

  • google@google.com

    all i can do is express my discontent with this post and ask you to enguage(bad spellling) in some real dialogue. make it happen! we have a meme tooo!

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      Unfortunately, I have no idea what you mean.

  • virgilio

    Small diesel cars are more fuel efficient than prius or other hybrids. Higher fuel prices makes us more efficient.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/abemurray abemurray

    Well I clearly didn't intend for outright waste. My point was just that efficiency improvements get eaten up in other consumption (but also improve standards of living as a result, so are worth pursuing).

    I think the bigger point is that if you're trying to save the world, hybrids aren't the way; big solutions to the root causes of the problems are. A hybrid is a bandaid on a symptom. A new energy technology is a solution.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/abemurray abemurray

    Well I clearly didn't intend for outright waste. My point was just that efficiency improvements get eaten up in other consumption (but also improve standards of living as a result, so are worth pursuing).

    I think the bigger point is that if you're trying to save the world, hybrids aren't the way; big solutions to the root causes of the problems are. A hybrid is a bandaid on a symptom. A new energy technology is a solution.

  • http://www.hiddenevidence.com Abe Murray

    I love common sense (to some, counter-intuitive) thoughts like this. For instance, conservation doesn't solve the larger problems, because when people reduce consumption in one area, they generally shift the savings to another area of, you guessed it, consumption :-).

    That's not to say conservation isn't important – if we conserve / become more efficient, we are free to have more, not less, overall. But many promoting a conservation approach are hoping that everybody will somehow use less of everything, and I just don't think that's how humans are designed to work.

    What is very cool are plugin hybrids – but that is more an opportunity to arbitrage between cheap electricity from the mains and expensive fuel, and less caring about the mileage of cars. (If I could power my “16mpg SUV” from the mains I would for most local trips, simply because it's cheaper, not because it's saving fuel).

    @ Dan, who mentioned that the political opponent and public didn't perceive biking and non-car-owning to be better than hybrid ownership, this is the problem in a nutshell. Humans are humans, they don't care about solving problems, they care about not worrying about problems. For many a hybrid ticks the box (I've dealt with global warming, I bought a hybrid!) and they can get back to life as normal. Biking and walking are harder, so they don't want to hear that as “solutions” they want something they can purchase without inconveniencing the rest of their lives terribly much.

  • Tim

    Guess I'll buy a Hummer… With that analysis the best thing we can do is be as wasteful as possible and all drive the lowest mileage vehicles we can…. we'd “save gas” by all driving Hummers (apparently) because we'd drive “less” to make up the difference.

    We should also all use incandescent lightbulbs, old technology inefficient hot water heaters, 20 year old refrigerators, 30 year old air conditioners, and coal furnaces to heat our houses.

    Inefficiency…. the path to efficiency…. Sheer GENIUS!!!!!

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      Ooh – I love sarcasm.

    • http://www.hiddenevidence.com Abe Murray

      I don't think the intent is to promote outright waste. My point was just that efficiency improvements get eaten up in other consumption (but also improve standards of living as a result, so are worth pursuing).

      I think the bigger point is that if you're trying to save the world, hybrids aren't the way; big solutions to the root causes of the problems are. A hybrid is a bandaid on a symptom. A new energy technology is a solution.

      • Tim

        You take the band-aid while the new technology is developed….theres no use bleeding in the meantime.

        Technologies are typically a series of steps. Eureka moments that invalidate everything thats been done before are rare in the real world and you can end up waiting for them forever… and never do anything.

        • http://www.gekhabitat.com Shannon Moore

          Love the answer to the analogy, Tim. Spot on!

  • http://www.geekhabitat.com/ Shannon Moore

    Posted in several parts due to length — PART ONE –
    TO Scott Lasica:
    The CNW Marketing piece “Dust to Dust” (http://cnwmr.com/nss-folder/automotiveenergy/) is often used as “proof” against hybrids, but few people who share it look into just what it “studied”. Indeed, those who look into that find Mr. Spinella's research to be quite questionable, indeed, claiming a Hummer is more efficient than a Prius despite the Prius being 1/3 the weight of a Hummer and getting 4 to 6 times better mileage. CNW Marketing reached its highly questionable conclusion by assuming a 300,00+ mile lifespan on the Hummer and only a 109,000 mile lifespan on the Prius. What?
    Read more about CNW Marketin's wonky “study”:
    * http://www.slate.com/id/2186786/
    * http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c
    * http://www.straightdope.com/columns/080404.html

    Also, hybrid's high voltage batteries are highly sought after for reclamation and recycling. Toyota offers a $200 bounty for every high voltage hybrid battery turned in (thieves be warned–they're not lightweight so you'd have better luck stealing a vehicle than trying to get the battery out unnoticed ;-) In fact, if the rarity occurs and someone in fact needs a new high voltage hybrid battery, they usually get a remanufactured one, even when under warranty, because there's no reason to trash the old ones–individual cells diminish/go bad, but the entire battery pack is still viable and servicable.
    * http://www.hybridcars.com/economics/hidden-costs….
    * http://www.hybridcars.com/forums/battery-replacem

    TO FN:
    If a person is looking for the lowest cost per mile, they wouldn't buy a Mini or “other small/cheap car” unless it was a USED VEHICLE.

    TO Jon Erickson & Jeremy Liles & Nick Harris & Steve Murchie:
    Amen, that is the same reason my husband I purchased our 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid, to “get the best mileage we could *when we had to drive*”. Our '06 Escape Hybrid still has well under 20,000 miles on it and we bought it new. This is the same rate of mileage accrual that we put on my previous vehicle, a 1992 Toyota Corolla we sold to a college student when we purchased the Escape Hybrid. (Incidentally, the Escape Hybrid–a small-size SUV–gets better fuel economy than the '92 Corolla (a small sedan) did. ;-) We still own a Ford F-150 Supercrew 4×4, but you can bet we look at every trip and decide what is the best vehicle for that trip.

    We don't drive any more than we used to, why would we?! I find it preposterous that anyone would assume owning a hybrid suddenly makes a person want to drive more, as if we're going to go “cruising” down streets, staying under 30mph of course so we're in electric-only mode, just for the hell of it. Sure, I've given a couple “test drives” but they're to friends or family in town whom I have to ferry around anyway. That, or taking co-workers out to lunch, versus them hopping in their individual vehicles or in someone's giant SUV.

    TO Nick Molnar:
    Agreed. Anyone with an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) is part of the problem, but there's definitely a benefit to some of us not running our ICE continuously like a non-hybrid does. Hybrids help pave the way–both technologically and socially (getting people used to something new/different)–for things like full-electric and plug-in vehicles, as well as alternate fuel sourced vehicles like hydrogen and other fuel cells. It's a change in thinking that doesn't come about overnight.

    TO MikeK:
    You do know there are hybrids on the used car market now, right? Some are people selling because they've moved closer to their place of work and no longer feel the need for a highly fuel efficient vehicle, others are being sold so early adopter hybrid owners can upgrade to the latest models (for example, the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid finally has traction control, among other things. No, we're not trading up. Happy with our 2006 model and will drive it for 10+ years just like the Corolla before it.)
    Used hybrids:
    * http://hub.motors.ebay.com/alternative_fuel
    * http://greenhybrid.com/discuss/f53/

  • http://www.twitter.com/worleygirl Amy Worley

    I've had a hybrid for a few years now. My driving behavior hasn't changed at all. I walk when it makes sense, because I like to; and I drive where I need to. No new trips because of my hybrid. It's a case study of one…but I guess that beats a case study of zero! ;-)

  • http://www.geekhabitat.com/ Shannon Moore

    Site's timing out. still 2 more parts to post, addressing other posters' comments.

  • http://www.geekhabitat.com/ Shannon Moore

    —PART TWO—
    TO Jeremy Liles:
    As you should know as a hybrid owner, your factory warranty is either 8 years/100k miles or 10 years/150k miles (depending on if you live in CA or a select few other locales). High voltage battery failures within that timeframe are quite rare. I've read of literally only a couple, and even then it's heartening to note the cost of replacing the battery is an order of magnitude lower than the initial doom & gloom reports when hybrids first entered the US market. For example, a 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid, whose warranty period was shorter than modern hybrids (8 year/80k miles) has had its hybrid battery die but the cost to replace the battery (parts AND labor, total) has been quoted at $2500, not the $9000 or more sometimes still bandied about in the press or over the office cube walls.
    -> http://greenhybrid.com/discuss/f12/ima-battery-de

    Further, surely you've read about the NYC hybrid taxis that are surpassing mileage that the average consumer is unlikely to reach anytime soon -> http://www.autoblog.com/2007/04/04/ford-escape-hy

    TO Chris Yeh & Tony Casson:
    Amen. In large part, we bought our hybrid because of the dramatically reduced emissions when we drive. It's most obvious that the rest of the world isn't similarly motivated by that when we're parked, stuck, in traffic and breathing everyone else's exhaust while our vehicle sits with its ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) OFF since it is not needed. It literally *is* a breath of fresh air…well, for whomever is behind us, at the very least. As you mention, new vehicles–hybrid AND non-hybrid alike–are getting more efficient in terms of reducing harmful emissions so anyone in the market for a new vehicle today is getting a “cleaner/greener” vehicle than they would have 10+ years ago. For example, our old 1992 Toyota Corolla (4cyl, automatic) is listed on fueleconomy.gov as having a 7.3 tons per year carbon (CO2) footprint, versus the 2008 Toyota Corolla which has a 6.3 ton per year carbon footprint — 1 TON LESS OF CO2 annually, gained by a more efficient engine & emissions system. When you add in a hybrid drive train, you gain from the fact that the ICE is not on for a not-too-insignificant portion of every single drive, further reducing emissions. Again using fueleconomy.gov, comparing our 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid FWD to a non-hybrid of the same make/model shows the annual carbon footprint of the non-hybrid Escape is 8.7 tons of CO2 vs. the Escape Hybrid's 6.3 tons of CO2 annually. Not only does the hybrid version of the Escape release over 2 tons less CO2 than its non-hybrid counterpart per year, it also releases *no more CO2 than a 2008 Toyota Corolla* (non-hybrid, and a much smaller vehicle.) Those who don't care about air pollution can wrinkle their noses, but to our family this is a very big reason why we bought hybrid. And we bought a U.S. hybrid to vote with our pocketbooks and let U.S. automakers know we supported new, higher fuel efficiency, less polluting technologies and we hoped to see them step up and lead in this arena. The best way to do that, in our opinion, was acting through the free market economy and simply BUYING one of their vehicles. We needed a new vehicle anyway–the Corolla had served us well for 13+ years but we needed modern safety (front & side curtain airbags, ABS) and convenience (a vehicle whose headliner wasn't falling off, who's AC system had a slow leak, etc.) Not everyone can afford to, or wants to, buy a hybrid and that's fine. We chose to, and we could, and we couldn't be happier with the decision. We are geeks; we are used to being among the early adopters to a new technology and we're happy to work through the kinks if it means a better, less expensive, more effective product down the road.
    -> http://fueleconomy.gov/

  • http://www.geekhabitat.com Shannon Moore

    —PART 3 (OF 3)—
    TO Preston:
    Actually, hybrids thus far have been averaging less costs in annual routine maintenance than non-hybrids, in large part because their Internal Combustion Engines don't get worked as hard/as often as non-hybrid vehicles and their brake pads (one set, anyway; I forget if it's front or rear) are used much less than in a non-hybrid because some of the vehicle's momentum is captured as regenerative braking power instead of being bled off as heat from the wearing of the brake pads. (An engineer could explain this properly; I'm probably mucking it up but it's my way-layman's explanantion ;-) So far, our 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid has proved very inexpensive to maintain–just oil and filter changes as scheduled, and we did splurge on a new set of tires after sustaining too many punctures & patches (major construction around us.) PS: Hybrids are most definitely a transitional technology, but can't that be said of everything? Granted, the internal combustion engine has been around for a long, long time, and isn't going to disappear in the foreseeable future (big diesel generators, etc.) even if it's used less for personal transportation. The “problem” with plug-in/electric vehicles is one of infrastructure and demand. If they go widespread, which maybe they will, there will need to be charging stations in downtown areas and office parks for people to recharge their vehicles while at work or traveling, and we'll need to move our power plants away from highly polluting forms of electrical generation (coal, etc.) or we'll merely shift the pollution, as it were, requiring more electrical generation plants in some areas to support the growing number of plug-in electric vehicles. We're a LONG, LONG WAY AWAY from that happening, however. It's about as far-fetched a fear right now as when people said/say “If too many people buy hybrids, the government's going to go broke because it won't receive enough money in gas tax revenue to maintain our roads.” (Like they maintain them adequately NOW? ;-)

    TO Aziz Grieser:
    Excellent blog post and one I wish more people would ponder. The truth of the matter is there is no magic pill, no single point solution. Like everything else in life, the solution is a multitude of things working in concert. Rarely is technology, alone, a solution to what ails us. The human element, as the advertising (DOW?) goes, is the most important one of all. That is why in addition to buying a hybrid in 2006, we have tried to incorporate bicycling into our way of life. My husband has succeeded and I have failed in this regard–he commutes once or twice a week to work on his bicycle (12 to 14 miles each way, depending on his route) and this has inspired others we know to try to bicycle commute as well. We live in San Antonio, Texas, which is not exactly “Bike Friendly USA” and it's hot & humid, so if he can do it, others can too. In addition to the benefits to him directly (physical fitness, sense of accomplishment, a GREAT way to burn of work stress), maybe someone sitting alone in their SUV/pickup/sedan, parked in bumper-to-bumper rush traffic and breathing everyone else's auto exhaust, will be motivated to do something similar.

    TO Dan Dunn & Abe Murray:
    Rarely is the politicial arena the most logical place. I'm not sure what Dan's close-minded opponent has to do with the blog post, however. Without a real study to back it up, we're all just passing off our personal biases and stereotypes off as fact by assuming a hybrid driver does or does not do other things to conserve, or that a Hummer driver is in fact a jerk/witch, or that someone who bicycles to work is inherently “greener” in every OTHER aspect of his/her life (maybe their passion is speedboat racing on the weekends, or riding a four-wheeler, or whatnot, for example.) When the best answer to a question posed to you is “I don't know” the answer you say aloud really SHOULD be “I don't know,” not your pet bias or favorite stereotype. Yes, there are some really high and mighty Prius (see South Park “Smug” episode) owners, and I guess there's probably a kindly ol' grandmother driving a Hummer, but their existence doesn't grant us the proof to paint everyone with that broad brush.

    • http://www.hiddenevidence.com Abe Murray

      Thanks for the thoughts Shannon.

      I recently purchased a car, doing the math (and looking at how much I drive – not much), I didn't feel that a hybrid would pay for itself. Bandaid or not, it's not a solution to my problem. It comes down to where I want to spend my money.

      I personally get very excited about what's going on in our world to fix the bigger problems. Part of that excitement is over service firms that make a profit off of improving the efficiency of others. So I am not anti-efficiency.

      I am pro-”I don't know” which seems anathema to many of the hybrid drivers I have bumped into (in my admittedly small sample of the world I have experienced).

      Therefore I like thoughts such as Brad's above that maybe the world view that is being marketed so heavily about the green cred of hybrids isn't all it might be. Anecdotal or not, it is fun to think different(ly).

  • cauloccoli

    There is some psychological research to back up the assertion that hybrid owners feel “entitled” to drive more…check out this excerpt from an article on American Apparel in this month's Fast Company:

    “The Yale Center for Customer Insights designed an experiment to test this phenomenon. It divided 108 subjects into two groups. Members of one group were presented with a straightforward consumer choice. Would they prefer to buy a vacuum cleaner (a utilitarian object) or a pair of jeans (a bit of a luxury), each of which was assigned the same price, $50? About 72% chose the vacuum cleaner. Members of the other group were told to imagine they had volunteered to spend three hours a week either teaching children in a homeless shelter or “improving the environment.” They were asked to explain their choice, a process meant to prod them into engaging with the idea. Then they faced the vacuum-cleaner-or-jeans choice. In this group, a majority (57%) opted for the jeans.

    “Although very few of the subjects made the connection, the researchers concluded that 'the opportunity to appear altruistic by committing to a charitable act in a prior task' gives us license to choose a luxury item. A similar set of studies indicates that subjects are more likely to splurge on fancier sunglasses or pricier concert tickets after giving to charity. If you buy ecological or green products or consume alternative health care or practice yoga, it's easy to conclude, 'Hey, I've done my part.'”

  • Jared Still

    Wired magazine breaks this down pretty well here:

    http://www.wired.com/science/planetearth/magazine

    There are always unintended consequences to 'feel-good' environmental policies. E.g., bio-diesel has lower CO2 but higher (poisonously high if you ask the State of CA) nitrous-oxide levels.

    The mining of your (pompous hybrid driver that South Park so brilliantly parodied) cute little Pruis batteries so that you, again, 'feel good' with your engine in ICE-off state, does more environmental harm than good. Not to mention the impact it will have on the environment when we have to start disposing of those hazards.

    • http://www.geekhabitat.com/ Shannon Moore

      I suspect you read nothing I said so I am not sure why I'm responding. First off, the WIRED article (as much as I respect them as a geek publication) relies heavily on the same flawed CNW Marketing study that this blog entry we're all responding to did. Quoted by WIRED it's still the same false personal bias parading as a “study” nonsense. If I dug around, I wouldn't be surprised if I found a retraction printed by WIRED for that article, as many other major publications have had to do after relying too heavily on CNW Marketing's “study”. Second, I don't drive a Prius and I don't think my vehicle is cute. Third, the batteries are recycled (read the links and open your mind just for a brief moment; it won't hurt.)

      Life is polluting. Some of us pollute more than others, in word and in action.

  • http://www.geekhabitat.com/ Shannon Moore

    Interesting study. I guess it begs the question, though, how is that bad–the charity donator, the hybrid vehicle buyer, the bike commuter or mass transit rider, the blood donator–they all *DID DO SOMETHING* so why shouldn't they glean some psychological benefit from that? Why is that inherently *bad*? They actually did something, versus someone else who DIDN'T (donate to the charity, buy a hybrid, bike commute or use mass transit to work, donate blood). Are we now playing politically correct with our emotions, too? It's not “right” to do something good unless, like a Buddhist monk, you see it only as your personal duty and not a reward in its own right?

    It's funny how if a person/company/product is perceived as “green” it had better be PURE, or there's hell to pay, but if you're the average Joe/Jane no one calls you on all your decisions, actions and inactions that have environmental impact. In the case of hybrid vehicles, we constantly hear about the manufacturing process and end of life, but who talks about those things about all the billions of non-hybrid vehicles in the world? All this talk of batteries, yet how many people actually properly dispose of their consumer battery-powered devices, cellphone batteries, etc?

    For some reason, when some people hear the word “hybrid” or see someone doing something they perceive as “green”/environmental, the presumption isn't “Hey, I can do my part in some way, too. Maybe not the same way as that person, but in my own ways,” it's instead projected outward, “Look at that guy/gal, in their Prius/carrying their recyclable cloth grocery bags/etc. What a poseur. I bet they waste electricity/water. What a crock.” The measuring stick isn't so much a stick as it is a Slinky and it isn't turned inward so much as it's held up/wound around those who HAVE done something. It's easier to label and disparage or discount and move on than it is to honestly evaluate ones own actions and find ways to change.

    For some of us, one real way to bring about a positive change is to buy a hybrid. It's not for everyone, but few things in this world–certainly, very few products–ARE right for EVERYone. Hell, I'm still waiting for my flying car…and now I expect it to get unlimited fuel economy, produce zero emissions and look as sexy as a Tesla Roadster. Oh, and cost less than a paycheck.

    On to a different topic: I just learned something new today about the Atkinson cycle engine in hybrids vs. the Otto cycle engine in non-hybrids. Interesting thread (read all the posts, not just the glowing one on the Ford Escape Hybrid; I'm not sharing the link on the merits of a single particular comment in the thread.) -> http://greenhybrid.com/discuss/f26/why-hybrids-cl

  • Jared Still

    Amusing. And I'm sure the green religion and its evangelists have none of “the same false personal bias parading as a “study” nonsenses”. I guess only the opinions that fall in line with green dogma may be considered “open-minded” and “thoughtful”.

    Sorry if I don't accept the tenants of your passionate beliefs. But I don't.

    Really interesting how one cannot hold beliefs contrary to those of the 'prius movement' without being either a) uninformed b) uneducated or c) just morally wrong (i.e. a life-polluter).

    In no other arena of thought & conversation is contrarian thinking so vehemently dismissed, as in conversation with enviro-evangelists. Yawn…..

    • http://www.geekhabitat.com/ Shannon Moore

      If you, in fact, do not pollute then you need to submit yourself as a medical marvel because every single other human being on this planet both excretes waste and creates other waste products in the course of their life. If you don't, RUN, don't walk to the nearest lab to submit for testing. You could be the next link on our evolutionary chain!

  • http://www.geekhabitat.com Shannon Moore

    Your lack of reading has nothing to do with education. Indeed, some of the most educated people are also the most close-minded and judgmental.

    You quoted a study that has been found to be pure bunk, and you think I'm the one holding too strongly to beliefs?
    * http://www.slate.com/id/2186786/
    * http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c
    * http://www.straightdope.com/columns/080404.html

    I DON'T DRIVE A PRIUS. There are 13 models of hybrids on the road today, and I happen to drive the Ford Escape Hybrid. At least get your stereotype right. Our other vehicle is an F-150. You calling me an environmentalist is like calling Howard the Duck an endangered waterfowl. And your linking my comments to religion? Might as well pull a trifecta and mention Hitler or the Nazis (see Godwin's Law).

    I don't label you yet you feel compelled to label me. You cannot engage in discussion on the basis of facts so you insult, malign and misconstrue. How very surprising…

    • http://www.geekhabitat.com/ Shannon Moore

      We're ohana now, me and Jared. (Besides, he's a vet and I can't fight with someone I want to thank repeatedly.) Found him on Twitter. Turns out he DOES produce waste. Damn, I thought I could claim discovery rights to a new alien-human hybrid (a whole 'nother kind of hybrid, one far scarier than the one we're debating here!)

      And apparently I wore the mantle of environmental nut too quickly (even though it doesn't fit…I'd be kicked out of any Sierra Club meeting, even if I arrived in my hybrid.) He didn't in fact mean ME, but I ate it right up and got all defensive. Yup, I'm a flawed human being. And I produce waste. Man, how am I going to live with myself now?

      Oh, right, I drive a hybrid. That's all I need right there!

      (That last line is sarcasm, for anyone equally flawed as I am, who might misread it as hybrid smug.)

      But I do love my hybrid. Don't confuse love with idolatry, though. My hybrid's getting kicked to the curb someday… hopefully there will be a flying car to replace it. (I'm a geek, I refuse to give up that particular dream.)

  • http://www.lasica.com Scott Lasica

    Wow, a 10 second google to find that link stirred up quite a pot. Personally, I love the idea of hybrids, even before gas prices went out of control. I have no idea if the data in the referenced study is true, but either way when I need to buy a new car getting a hybrid will make me feel better and that's good enough for me.

  • John

    I find statements such as 'people still need to modify their behavior and drive less' to be arrogant and elitist. Environmentalism is the new religion and if you don't ascribe the the central tenants you are an apostate. I for one detest public transportation. And I happen to enjoy driving both to commute and for day trips to the mountains. Taking that away seems horribly dystopian.

    If you truly believe in your environmental position, then either suggest the fascist policy of forcing people out of their cars or propose a $5/gallon federal gas tax. But, I have a feeling that in the US at least, that won't happen.

  • John Buehler

    It is a very interesting premise. Google “Jevon's Paradox” and you will find some interesting case studies that prove this out. Every increase in milage so far has been met with increases in usage far greater than the savings. We're all suckers for efficiency, we just forget the unintended consequences.

  • Steve D

    Just a couple thoughts from a Nissan Altima hybrid owner.

    Why is it that someone who wants the more powerful “v6″ option does not have to justify the added expense of that option, but the hybrid owner always needs to explain how long the “payback” will be? You pay almost as much to get the V6, and not only will you never recover the cost, you will pay more for fuel for the life of the car.

    If I spend $4K more for a hybrid (and BTW get $2,350 back in a tax credit) , I would rather give that money to Nissan, than Exxon. I will recover that cost eventually.

    My car has more HP, torque, and standard options than a 2.5L standard Altima.

    My car requires LESS Maintenance than a standard 2.5L Altima.

    Oh, and I don't drive my car any more than any other car I have owned, but we do take it more often than our other car, for obvious reasons.

  • anamaroopa

    plus sitting in the magnetic field of the electircs definitely messes with your body

  • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

    from an email comments: “I couldn't see an option for comments, but here is your n of 1. I bought a hybrid last year and a commuter bike 6 months later. I ride to work in the Denver area every day except for night meetings or when there is prohibitive weather (ice on roads). My wife uses the hybrid and we haven't seen an increase in her mileage, except we now use her car instead of my pick-up for long hauls.”

  • Eric

    I don't get hybrid owners that think they are helping the environment by trading in their old vehicle and buying a new hybrid. All that does is net two vehicles on the road.

    To truly reduce emissions, one would have to junk the old vehicle and replace it with a used vehicle.

    There are other green vehicles than just hybrids.

    When my GMC Jimmy got totaled three years ago, I replaced it with a used car that runs on compressed natural gas (CNG).

    The vehicle has paid for itself with the fuel savings, carpool lane usage, and not having to pay bridge tolls during rush hour.

  • Eric

    I don't get hybrid owners that think they are helping the environment by trading in their old vehicle and buying a new hybrid. All that does is net two vehicles on the road.

    To truly reduce emissions, one would have to junk the old vehicle and replace it with a used vehicle.

    There are other green vehicles than just hybrids.

    When my GMC Jimmy got totaled three years ago, I replaced it with a used car that runs on compressed natural gas (CNG).

    The vehicle has paid for itself with the fuel savings, carpool lane usage, and not having to pay bridge tolls during rush hour.

  • FN

    It's the "light cigarette" argument (smokers just inhale more). Although I doubt that enough hybrids have been sold for this effect to emerge. Today a hybrid comes at a premium not a discount (if people were looking for lower cost per mile they would buy a mini or other small / cheap car). So that would imply that hybrids are being bought by rich folks who are "doing the right thing" and thus the marginal cost savings are unlikely to change behavior.

  • Nick Harris

    I don't drive anymore since I got my hybrid. It never even really crossed my mind to drive more. I also find that I offer to car pool more since I'm the only one of my friends with a hybrid. Instead of everyone in their own SUVs, we park those and pile into the hybrid.

  • Scott Lasica

    Another point on this that I heard (but also don't have data to back up) is that the manufacturing process for the batteries in hybrid cars actually damage the environment more than if you bought and drove a non-hybrid car. Apparently the waste created as well as the fuel costs to ship the parts all over the world create a large amount of dangerous waste and emmissions. Here's an old summary of a study that shows that for the overall lifetime of a car, hybrids are actually worse than hummers. http://www.reason.org/commentaries/dalmia_2006071

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/smurchie smurchie

    If the typical hybrid gets 2-4x the gas mileage of a standard car or truck, wouldn't hybrid drivers have to log 2-4x as many miles to just equal the aggregate consumption of fuel? I can't see that happening – hybrid drivers would have to be spending the better part of their lives in their cars. I know some pretty dedicated Prius fans, but even they have other things to do in their lives. Sounds like phlogiston logic to me.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/jeremy_lil11031 jeremy_lil11031

    I agree with Jon. I bought a hybrid because I wanted to get the best mileage I could *when I had to drive*, but I take steps not to drive (such as living where I can walk to most of the merchants that I need to visit regularly). I would hope that the people who purchase hybrids are doing it thoughtfully, first trying to minimize their driving as much as possible, then trying to be more efficient when they must drive (including driving less aggressively and being mindful of efficient speeds).

    But this is a good illustration of a larger point, that the economics of environmentalism can be pretty difficult to figure out at times. I think only a massive investment in public transit (very unlikely in this country) will make a huge difference w/r/t auto use.

  • mike y

    they study scott mentions is few years dated now. wonder if any new data out to consider overall carbon footprint of hybrid and regular vehicles. Anyone?
    brad, when are you going to join clean-tech venture wave? It is very exciting space. time to save the world?… and maybe a cheerleader in the process.

  • MikeK

    Possibly another point to pounder regarding the purchase of a hybrid. Let's do some simple math, for fun. I drive an SUV which gets 14mi/gal. Yep terrible but the car is paid for and being a large SUV it has today basically lost all of its market value (i.e. driving it longer doesn’t affect its $0 market value). So for economic reasons should I switch to a better mileage car? I drive about 14k mi per year which translates to 1,000 gal of gas or $4,000 at $4/gal. If I buy a new car that gets me twice the mileage, I'll save $2,000 per year on gas money. The depreciation of the new vehicle though will be a multiple of that. Ok, then let's push the envelope. With a car that performs at 40mi/gal I would save $2,600. Well, still not covering depreciation. Conclusion? Amy is right. Don’t bother me with hybrids until gas prices are substantially higher.

  • Nick Molnar

    A country with 100% hybrids is still a country 100% dependent on oil.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/jud_valeski3968 jud_valeski3968

    This is the Tivo effect. Tivo was supposed to make us watch less TV (skip commercials). Study after study shows we watch more TV b/c we think we're doing it more efficiently.

  • Chris Yeh

    That systems reach dynamic equilibria is nothing new.

    Engines are vastly more efficient than they were 20 years ago, but we've chosen to use more powerful engines to power bigger cars, rather than going for mileage. Nonetheless, you won't hear anyone arguing that we should switch back to less-efficient, lower-horsepower engines.

    If hybrid technology reduces harmful emissions and cuts gas consumption, it is a good thing. If people choose to use it to power even bigger cars, well, at least they have the option to scale down later on. We didn't have that option with gas guzzlers.

  • Bill

    Wow – this post certainly got some opinions going! The hybrid dilemma also points to the fallacy of CAFE restrictions. On paper it sounds great – the evil auto companies are hoarding their secret mileage technology and forcing 15mpg SUV's on us. In truth, if GM had a 25mpg Suburban, I think we'd be seeing it now. The problem with CAFE is that it works the wrong curve in the equation: CAFE increases supply, rather than decreasing demand. In other words, making the auto companies increase their mileage makes it cheaper for us to continue our bad habits, making driving 15,000 miles/year more affordable. What govt. mandates should be doing is affecting demand – raising taxes to the point of pain (and $4.00 gas seems to have started that) where the market starts to sort itself out.

    There is a case to be made for the govt. to raise taxes so gas is even higher at an artificially stable price for a set amount of time (say, $8.00 for 7 years), let the commodity market function underneath that price, return stability to gas pumps and force us, the users to make hard choices.

  • virgilio

    Small diesel cars are more fuel efficient than prius or other hybrids. Higher fuel prices makes us more efficient.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/abemurray abemurray

    I love common sense (to some, counter-intuitive) thoughts like this. For instance, conservation doesn't solve the larger problems, because when people reduce consumption in one area, they generally shift the savings to another area of, you guessed it, consumption :-).

    That's not to say conservation isn't important – if we conserve / become more efficient, we are free to have more, not less, overall. But many promoting a conservation approach are hoping that everybody will somehow use less of everything, and I just don't think that's how humans are designed to work.

    What is very cool are plugin hybrids – but that is more an opportunity to arbitrage between cheap electricity from the mains and expensive fuel, and less caring about the mileage of cars. (If I could power my "16mpg SUV" from the mains I would for most local trips, simply because it's cheaper, not because it's saving fuel).

    @ Dan, who mentioned that the political opponent and public didn't perceive biking and non-car-owning to be better than hybrid ownership, this is the problem in a nutshell. Humans are humans, they don't care about solving problems, they care about not worrying about problems. For many a hybrid ticks the box (I've dealt with global warming, I bought a hybrid!) and they can get back to life as normal. Biking and walking are harder, so they don't want to hear that as "solutions" they want something they can purchase without inconveniencing the rest of their lives terribly much.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/aziz_griese5636 aziz_griese5636

    Back when I first started my blog, I wrote a lot of provocative posts in the hopes of shocking the shit out of someone like Brad, so he might pay attention to me and my company. Selfish and shameless, but the honest truth.

    Well, my best posts were my first, and I actually wrote about solving this problem in my very first blog entry. I still believe it is the right solution, and you can see it in the comments above.

    http://imagdg.com/?p=6
    (The date is actually December 2006, from my old blog.)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/jeremy_lil11031 jeremy_lil11031

    Your analysis is correct for switching, however I was in a position where I had no car to begin with (lived in NYC for 8 years) so the choice was simply between buying a hybrid or non-hybrid. Both the US and Colorado have some nice tax incentives in place for hybrids, so I come out ahead within a few years given current gas prices.

    As a bonus, I can sneak up on people in parking lots.

    The only thing that makes me nervous is the whole battery lifetime/disposal issue that we're starting to hear about more often.

  • Gerald

    Dependent, yes – But of course with much less demand for oil. It's a weaning process while we wait for other non-oil dependent technologies mature. I don't see anything wrong with that.

  • Dan Dunn

    When I ran for state representative we had a couple debates. My opponent was proud to report that he was one of the first in town to buy a hybrid, and he and his wife were on the waiting list for their second.

    The fact that I didn't own a car and biked to work didn't appear to matter to him – he had a hybrid, and that was that.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/tony_casson5682 tony_casson5682

    A lot of good thought here. The argument about the carbon footprint and total environmental impact of the hybrid has been hit hard in lots of publications on both sides of the issue with good points on both sides.

    I think Chris Y hits the nail on the head though. More hybrids = lower emissions and less money spent by people at the pump which is better for the environment and the economy. More demand for hybrids = more market entrants lowering the cost and advancing the technology's capabilities. I think that these are desirable outcomes and trust that they will be a net positive for the environment and society as a whole.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Unfortunately, I have no idea what you mean.

  • Gerald

    Me too. I got my Honda Civic Hybrid last year since I needed a more fuel efficient car to drive to work. I don't think my driving habits or distances have become larger just because I get more mpg… I just save more compared to my previous car. Just to add, when going out for lunch, i usually volunteer my car so that other don't need to bring their cars (which aren't hybrids btw)… saves more gas that way too.

  • Preston

    The hybrid discussion is interesting. The effect Brad points out is really dilution of the benefit but as Steve points out it isn't going to amount to all that much dilution. Scott's point about the battery impact is where it gets interesting for me. A hybrid contains an internal combustion engine, an electric engine (with the battery as power storage), the mechanicism to switch between the two, and the electronics to manage the selection. This makes it a more complex vehicle with higher maintenance and all that goes along with that. When oil prices drive us to a laser like focus on fuel economy we tend to ignore the truly important issue of economic use of all resources (and I do mean to include the externalities of vehicle pollution). The all electric car is an attractive target. Maybe hybrids should be viewed as a "transitional" technology to the all electric vehicle as some view corn ethanol as a transitional technology to cellulosic ethanol.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Ooh – I love sarcasm.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/abemurray abemurray

    I don't think the intent is to promote outright waste. My point was just that efficiency improvements get eaten up in other consumption (but also improve standards of living as a result, so are worth pursuing).

    I think the bigger point is that if you're trying to save the world, hybrids aren't the way; big solutions to the root causes of the problems are. A hybrid is a bandaid on a symptom. A new energy technology is a solution.

  • Tim

    You take the band-aid while the new technology is developed….theres no use bleeding in the meantime.

    Technologies are typically a series of steps. Eureka moments that invalidate everything thats been done before are rare in the real world and you can end up waiting for them forever… and never do anything.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/jared_stil28971 jared_stil28971

    Amusing. And I'm sure the green religion and its evangelists have none of "the same false personal bias parading as a "study" nonsenses". I guess only the opinions that fall in line with green dogma may be considered "open-minded" and "thoughtful".

    Sorry if I don't accept the tenants of your passionate beliefs. But I don't.

    Really interesting how one cannot hold beliefs contrary to those of the 'prius movement' without being either a) uninformed b) uneducated or c) just morally wrong (i.e. a life-polluter).

    In no other arena of thought & conversation is contrarian thinking so vehemently dismissed, as in conversation with enviro-evangelists. Yawn…..

  • Shannon Moore

    People want a 100% solution or nothing at all. It's a wonder any scientific progress is made in the USA with that kind of non-logic. It's like saying chemotherapy shouldn't be used to treat cancer because it's so harsh on the patient and is not going to ensure their cancer-free survival.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/jared_stil28971 jared_stil28971

    Wired magazine breaks this down pretty well here:

    http://www.wired.com/science/planetearth/magazine

    There are always unintended consequences to 'feel-good' environmental policies. E.g., bio-diesel has lower CO2 but higher (poisonously high if you ask the State of CA) nitrous-oxide levels.

    The mining of your (pompous hybrid driver that South Park so brilliantly parodied) cute little Pruis batteries so that you, again, 'feel good' with your engine in ICE-off state, does more environmental harm than good. Not to mention the impact it will have on the environment when we have to start disposing of those hazards.

  • Shannon Moore

    —PART 3 (OF 3)—
    TO Preston:
    Actually, hybrids thus far have been averaging less costs in annual routine maintenance than non-hybrids, in large part because their Internal Combustion Engines don't get worked as hard/as often as non-hybrid vehicles and their brake pads (one set, anyway; I forget if it's front or rear) are used much less than in a non-hybrid because some of the vehicle's momentum is captured as regenerative braking power instead of being bled off as heat from the wearing of the brake pads. (An engineer could explain this properly; I'm probably mucking it up but it's my way-layman's explanantion ;-) So far, our 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid has proved very inexpensive to maintain–just oil and filter changes as scheduled, and we did splurge on a new set of tires after sustaining too many punctures & patches (major construction around us.) PS: Hybrids are most definitely a transitional technology, but can't that be said of everything? Granted, the internal combustion engine has been around for a long, long time, and isn't going to disappear in the foreseeable future (big diesel generators, etc.) even if it's used less for personal transportation. The "problem" with plug-in/electric vehicles is one of infrastructure and demand. If they go widespread, which maybe they will, there will need to be charging stations in downtown areas and office parks for people to recharge their vehicles while at work or traveling, and we'll need to move our power plants away from highly polluting forms of electrical generation (coal, etc.) or we'll merely shift the pollution, as it were, requiring more electrical generation plants in some areas to support the growing number of plug-in electric vehicles. We're a LONG, LONG WAY AWAY from that happening, however. It's about as far-fetched a fear right now as when people said/say "If too many people buy hybrids, the government's going to go broke because it won't receive enough money in gas tax revenue to maintain our roads." (Like they maintain them adequately NOW? ;-)

    TO Aziz Grieser:
    Excellent blog post and one I wish more people would ponder. The truth of the matter is there is no magic pill, no single point solution. Like everything else in life, the solution is a multitude of things working in concert. Rarely is technology, alone, a solution to what ails us. The human element, as the advertising (DOW?) goes, is the most important one of all. That is why in addition to buying a hybrid in 2006, we have tried to incorporate bicycling into our way of life. My husband has succeeded and I have failed in this regard–he commutes once or twice a week to work on his bicycle (12 to 14 miles each way, depending on his route) and this has inspired others we know to try to bicycle commute as well. We live in San Antonio, Texas, which is not exactly "Bike Friendly USA" and it's hot & humid, so if he can do it, others can too. In addition to the benefits to him directly (physical fitness, sense of accomplishment, a GREAT way to burn of work stress), maybe someone sitting alone in their SUV/pickup/sedan, parked in bumper-to-bumper rush traffic and breathing everyone else's auto exhaust, will be motivated to do something similar.

    TO Dan Dunn & Abe Murray:
    Rarely is the politicial arena the most logical place. I'm not sure what Dan's close-minded opponent has to do with the blog post, however. Without a real study to back it up, we're all just passing off our personal biases and stereotypes off as fact by assuming a hybrid driver does or does not do other things to conserve, or that a Hummer driver is in fact a jerk/witch, or that someone who bicycles to work is inherently "greener" in every OTHER aspect of his/her life (maybe their passion is speedboat racing on the weekends, or riding a four-wheeler, or whatnot, for example.) When the best answer to a question posed to you is "I don't know" the answer you say aloud really SHOULD be "I don't know," not your pet bias or favorite stereotype. Yes, there are some really high and mighty Prius (see South Park "Smug" episode) owners, and I guess there's probably a kindly ol' grandmother driving a Hummer, but their existence doesn't grant us the proof to paint everyone with that broad brush.

  • Shannon Moore

    We're ohana now, me and Jared. (Besides, he's a vet and I can't fight with someone I want to thank repeatedly.) Found him on Twitter. Turns out he DOES produce waste. Damn, I thought I could claim discovery rights to a new alien-human hybrid (a whole 'nother kind of hybrid, one far scarier than the one we're debating here!)

    And apparently I wore the mantle of environmental nut too quickly (even though it doesn't fit…I'd be kicked out of any Sierra Club meeting, even if I arrived in my hybrid.) He didn't in fact mean ME, but I ate it right up and got all defensive. Yup, I'm a flawed human being. And I produce waste. Man, how am I going to live with myself now?

    Oh, right, I drive a hybrid. That's all I need right there!

    (That last line is sarcasm, for anyone equally flawed as I am, who might misread it as hybrid smug.)

    But I do love my hybrid. Don't confuse love with idolatry, though. My hybrid's getting kicked to the curb someday… hopefully there will be a flying car to replace it. (I'm a geek, I refuse to give up that particular dream.)

  • Shannon Moore

    Site's timing out. still 2 more parts to post, addressing other posters' comments.

  • Shannon Moore

    Love the answer to the analogy, Tim. Spot on!

  • cauloccoli

    There is some psychological research to back up the assertion that hybrid owners feel "entitled" to drive more…check out this excerpt from an article on American Apparel in this month's Fast Company:

    "The Yale Center for Customer Insights designed an experiment to test this phenomenon. It divided 108 subjects into two groups. Members of one group were presented with a straightforward consumer choice. Would they prefer to buy a vacuum cleaner (a utilitarian object) or a pair of jeans (a bit of a luxury), each of which was assigned the same price, $50? About 72% chose the vacuum cleaner. Members of the other group were told to imagine they had volunteered to spend three hours a week either teaching children in a homeless shelter or "improving the environment." They were asked to explain their choice, a process meant to prod them into engaging with the idea. Then they faced the vacuum-cleaner-or-jeans choice. In this group, a majority (57%) opted for the jeans.

    "Although very few of the subjects made the connection, the researchers concluded that 'the opportunity to appear altruistic by committing to a charitable act in a prior task' gives us license to choose a luxury item. A similar set of studies indicates that subjects are more likely to splurge on fancier sunglasses or pricier concert tickets after giving to charity. If you buy ecological or green products or consume alternative health care or practice yoga, it's easy to conclude, 'Hey, I've done my part.'"

  • Amy Worley

    I've had a hybrid for a few years now. My driving behavior hasn't changed at all. I walk when it makes sense, because I like to; and I drive where I need to. No new trips because of my hybrid. It's a case study of one…but I guess that beats a case study of zero! ;-)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/abemurray abemurray

    Thanks for the thoughts Shannon.

    I recently purchased a car, doing the math (and looking at how much I drive – not much), I didn't feel that a hybrid would pay for itself. Bandaid or not, it's not a solution to my problem. It comes down to where I want to spend my money.

    I personally get very excited about what's going on in our world to fix the bigger problems. Part of that excitement is over service firms that make a profit off of improving the efficiency of others. So I am not anti-efficiency.

    I am pro-"I don't know" which seems anathema to many of the hybrid drivers I have bumped into (in my admittedly small sample of the world I have experienced).

    Therefore I like thoughts such as Brad's above that maybe the world view that is being marketed so heavily about the green cred of hybrids isn't all it might be. Anecdotal or not, it is fun to think different(ly).

  • Shannon Moore

    —PART TWO—
    TO Jeremy Liles:
    As you should know as a hybrid owner, your factory warranty is either 8 years/100k miles or 10 years/150k miles (depending on if you live in CA or a select few other locales). High voltage battery failures within that timeframe are quite rare. I've read of literally only a couple, and even then it's heartening to note the cost of replacing the battery is an order of magnitude lower than the initial doom & gloom reports when hybrids first entered the US market. For example, a 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid, whose warranty period was shorter than modern hybrids (8 year/80k miles) has had its hybrid battery die but the cost to replace the battery (parts AND labor, total) has been quoted at $2500, not the $9000 or more sometimes still bandied about in the press or over the office cube walls.
    -> http://greenhybrid.com/discuss/f12/ima-battery-de

    Further, surely you've read about the NYC hybrid taxis that are surpassing mileage that the average consumer is unlikely to reach anytime soon -> http://www.autoblog.com/2007/04/04/ford-escape-hy

    TO Chris Yeh & Tony Casson:
    Amen. In large part, we bought our hybrid because of the dramatically reduced emissions when we drive. It's most obvious that the rest of the world isn't similarly motivated by that when we're parked, stuck, in traffic and breathing everyone else's exhaust while our vehicle sits with its ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) OFF since it is not needed. It literally *is* a breath of fresh air…well, for whomever is behind us, at the very least. As you mention, new vehicles–hybrid AND non-hybrid alike–are getting more efficient in terms of reducing harmful emissions so anyone in the market for a new vehicle today is getting a "cleaner/greener" vehicle than they would have 10+ years ago. For example, our old 1992 Toyota Corolla (4cyl, automatic) is listed on fueleconomy.gov as having a 7.3 tons per year carbon (CO2) footprint, versus the 2008 Toyota Corolla which has a 6.3 ton per year carbon footprint — 1 TON LESS OF CO2 annually, gained by a more efficient engine & emissions system. When you add in a hybrid drive train, you gain from the fact that the ICE is not on for a not-too-insignificant portion of every single drive, further reducing emissions. Again using fueleconomy.gov, comparing our 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid FWD to a non-hybrid of the same make/model shows the annual carbon footprint of the non-hybrid Escape is 8.7 tons of CO2 vs. the Escape Hybrid's 6.3 tons of CO2 annually. Not only does the hybrid version of the Escape release over 2 tons less CO2 than its non-hybrid counterpart per year, it also releases *no more CO2 than a 2008 Toyota Corolla* (non-hybrid, and a much smaller vehicle.) Those who don't care about air pollution can wrinkle their noses, but to our family this is a very big reason why we bought hybrid. And we bought a U.S. hybrid to vote with our pocketbooks and let U.S. automakers know we supported new, higher fuel efficiency, less polluting technologies and we hoped to see them step up and lead in this arena. The best way to do that, in our opinion, was acting through the free market economy and simply BUYING one of their vehicles. We needed a new vehicle anyway–the Corolla had served us well for 13+ years but we needed modern safety (front & side curtain airbags, ABS) and convenience (a vehicle whose headliner wasn't falling off, who's AC system had a slow leak, etc.) Not everyone can afford to, or wants to, buy a hybrid and that's fine. We chose to, and we could, and we couldn't be happier with the decision. We are geeks; we are used to being among the early adopters to a new technology and we're happy to work through the kinks if it means a better, less expensive, more effective product down the road.
    -> http://fueleconomy.gov/

  • Shannon Moore

    Your lack of reading has nothing to do with education. Indeed, some of the most educated people are also the most close-minded and judgmental.

    You quoted a study that has been found to be pure bunk, and you think I'm the one holding too strongly to beliefs?
    * http://www.slate.com/id/2186786/
    * http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c
    * http://www.straightdope.com/columns/080404.html

    I DON'T DRIVE A PRIUS. There are 13 models of hybrids on the road today, and I happen to drive the Ford Escape Hybrid. At least get your stereotype right. Our other vehicle is an F-150. You calling me an environmentalist is like calling Howard the Duck an endangered waterfowl. And your linking my comments to religion? Might as well pull a trifecta and mention Hitler or the Nazis (see Godwin's Law).

    I don't label you yet you feel compelled to label me. You cannot engage in discussion on the basis of facts so you insult, malign and misconstrue. How very surprising…

  • John

    I find statements such as 'people still need to modify their behavior and drive less' to be arrogant and elitist. Environmentalism is the new religion and if you don't ascribe the the central tenants you are an apostate. I for one detest public transportation. And I happen to enjoy driving both to commute and for day trips to the mountains. Taking that away seems horribly dystopian.

    If you truly believe in your environmental position, then either suggest the fascist policy of forcing people out of their cars or propose a $5/gallon federal gas tax. But, I have a feeling that in the US at least, that won't happen.

  • Shannon Moore

    Posted in several parts due to length — PART ONE —
    TO Scott Lasica:
    The CNW Marketing piece "Dust to Dust" (http://cnwmr.com/nss-folder/automotiveenergy/) is often used as "proof" against hybrids, but few people who share it look into just what it "studied". Indeed, those who look into that find Mr. Spinella's research to be quite questionable, indeed, claiming a Hummer is more efficient than a Prius despite the Prius being 1/3 the weight of a Hummer and getting 4 to 6 times better mileage. CNW Marketing reached its highly questionable conclusion by assuming a 300,00+ mile lifespan on the Hummer and only a 109,000 mile lifespan on the Prius. What?
    Read more about CNW Marketin's wonky "study":
    * http://www.slate.com/id/2186786/
    * http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c
    * http://www.straightdope.com/columns/080404.html

    Also, hybrid's high voltage batteries are highly sought after for reclamation and recycling. Toyota offers a $200 bounty for every high voltage hybrid battery turned in (thieves be warned–they're not lightweight so you'd have better luck stealing a vehicle than trying to get the battery out unnoticed ;-) In fact, if the rarity occurs and someone in fact needs a new high voltage hybrid battery, they usually get a remanufactured one, even when under warranty, because there's no reason to trash the old ones–individual cells diminish/go bad, but the entire battery pack is still viable and servicable.
    * http://www.hybridcars.com/economics/hidden-costs….
    * http://www.hybridcars.com/forums/battery-replacem

    TO FN:
    If a person is looking for the lowest cost per mile, they wouldn't buy a Mini or "other small/cheap car" unless it was a USED VEHICLE.

    TO Jon Erickson & Jeremy Liles & Nick Harris & Steve Murchie:
    Amen, that is the same reason my husband I purchased our 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid, to "get the best mileage we could *when we had to drive*". Our '06 Escape Hybrid still has well under 20,000 miles on it and we bought it new. This is the same rate of mileage accrual that we put on my previous vehicle, a 1992 Toyota Corolla we sold to a college student when we purchased the Escape Hybrid. (Incidentally, the Escape Hybrid–a small-size SUV–gets better fuel economy than the '92 Corolla (a small sedan) did. ;-) We still own a Ford F-150 Supercrew 4×4, but you can bet we look at every trip and decide what is the best vehicle for that trip.

    We don't drive any more than we used to, why would we?! I find it preposterous that anyone would assume owning a hybrid suddenly makes a person want to drive more, as if we're going to go "cruising" down streets, staying under 30mph of course so we're in electric-only mode, just for the hell of it. Sure, I've given a couple "test drives" but they're to friends or family in town whom I have to ferry around anyway. That, or taking co-workers out to lunch, versus them hopping in their individual vehicles or in someone's giant SUV.

    TO Nick Molnar:
    Agreed. Anyone with an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) is part of the problem, but there's definitely a benefit to some of us not running our ICE continuously like a non-hybrid does. Hybrids help pave the way–both technologically and socially (getting people used to something new/different)–for things like full-electric and plug-in vehicles, as well as alternate fuel sourced vehicles like hydrogen and other fuel cells. It's a change in thinking that doesn't come about overnight.

    TO MikeK:
    You do know there are hybrids on the used car market now, right? Some are people selling because they've moved closer to their place of work and no longer feel the need for a highly fuel efficient vehicle, others are being sold so early adopter hybrid owners can upgrade to the latest models (for example, the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid finally has traction control, among other things. No, we're not trading up. Happy with our 2006 model and will drive it for 10+ years just like the Corolla before it.)
    Used hybrids:
    * http://hub.motors.ebay.com/alternative_fuel
    * http://greenhybrid.com/discuss/f53/

  • Shannon Moore

    Interesting study. I guess it begs the question, though, how is that bad–the charity donator, the hybrid vehicle buyer, the bike commuter or mass transit rider, the blood donator–they all *DID DO SOMETHING* so why shouldn't they glean some psychological benefit from that? Why is that inherently *bad*? They actually did something, versus someone else who DIDN'T (donate to the charity, buy a hybrid, bike commute or use mass transit to work, donate blood). Are we now playing politically correct with our emotions, too? It's not "right" to do something good unless, like a Buddhist monk, you see it only as your personal duty and not a reward in its own right?

    It's funny how if a person/company/product is perceived as "green" it had better be PURE, or there's hell to pay, but if you're the average Joe/Jane no one calls you on all your decisions, actions and inactions that have environmental impact. In the case of hybrid vehicles, we constantly hear about the manufacturing process and end of life, but who talks about those things about all the billions of non-hybrid vehicles in the world? All this talk of batteries, yet how many people actually properly dispose of their consumer battery-powered devices, cellphone batteries, etc?

    For some reason, when some people hear the word "hybrid" or see someone doing something they perceive as "green"/environmental, the presumption isn't "Hey, I can do my part in some way, too. Maybe not the same way as that person, but in my own ways," it's instead projected outward, "Look at that guy/gal, in their Prius/carrying their recyclable cloth grocery bags/etc. What a poseur. I bet they waste electricity/water. What a crock." The measuring stick isn't so much a stick as it is a Slinky and it isn't turned inward so much as it's held up/wound around those who HAVE done something. It's easier to label and disparage or discount and move on than it is to honestly evaluate ones own actions and find ways to change.

    For some of us, one real way to bring about a positive change is to buy a hybrid. It's not for everyone, but few things in this world–certainly, very few products–ARE right for EVERYone. Hell, I'm still waiting for my flying car…and now I expect it to get unlimited fuel economy, produce zero emissions and look as sexy as a Tesla Roadster. Oh, and cost less than a paycheck.

    On to a different topic: I just learned something new today about the Atkinson cycle engine in hybrids vs. the Otto cycle engine in non-hybrids. Interesting thread (read all the posts, not just the glowing one on the Ford Escape Hybrid; I'm not sharing the link on the merits of a single particular comment in the thread.) -> http://greenhybrid.com/discuss/f26/why-hybrids-cl

  • John Buehler

    It is a very interesting premise. Google "Jevon's Paradox" and you will find some interesting case studies that prove this out. Every increase in milage so far has been met with increases in usage far greater than the savings. We're all suckers for efficiency, we just forget the unintended consequences.

  • Scott Lasica

    Wow, a 10 second google to find that link stirred up quite a pot. Personally, I love the idea of hybrids, even before gas prices went out of control. I have no idea if the data in the referenced study is true, but either way when I need to buy a new car getting a hybrid will make me feel better and that's good enough for me.

  • Shannon Moore

    If you, in fact, do not pollute then you need to submit yourself as a medical marvel because every single other human being on this planet both excretes waste and creates other waste products in the course of their life. If you don't, RUN, don't walk to the nearest lab to submit for testing. You could be the next link on our evolutionary chain!

  • Shannon Moore

    I suspect you read nothing I said so I am not sure why I'm responding. First off, the WIRED article (as much as I respect them as a geek publication) relies heavily on the same flawed CNW Marketing study that this blog entry we're all responding to did. Quoted by WIRED it's still the same false personal bias parading as a "study" nonsense. If I dug around, I wouldn't be surprised if I found a retraction printed by WIRED for that article, as many other major publications have had to do after relying too heavily on CNW Marketing's "study". Second, I don't drive a Prius and I don't think my vehicle is cute. Third, the batteries are recycled (read the links and open your mind just for a brief moment; it won't hurt.)

    Life is polluting. Some of us pollute more than others, in word and in action.

  • Steve D

    Just a couple thoughts from a Nissan Altima hybrid owner.

    Why is it that someone who wants the more powerful "v6" option does not have to justify the added expense of that option, but the hybrid owner always needs to explain how long the "payback" will be? You pay almost as much to get the V6, and not only will you never recover the cost, you will pay more for fuel for the life of the car.

    If I spend $4K more for a hybrid (and BTW get $2,350 back in a tax credit) , I would rather give that money to Nissan, than Exxon. I will recover that cost eventually.

    My car has more HP, torque, and standard options than a 2.5L standard Altima.

    My car requires LESS Maintenance than a standard 2.5L Altima.

    Oh, and I don't drive my car any more than any other car I have owned, but we do take it more often than our other car, for obvious reasons.

  • anamaroopa

    plus sitting in the magnetic field of the electircs definitely messes with your body

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    from an email comments: "I couldn't see an option for comments, but here is your n of 1. I bought a hybrid last year and a commuter bike 6 months later. I ride to work in the Denver area every day except for night meetings or when there is prohibitive weather (ice on roads). My wife uses the hybrid and we haven't seen an increase in her mileage, except we now use her car instead of my pick-up for long hauls."

  • google@google.com

    all i can do is express my discontent with this post and ask you to enguage(bad spellling) in some real dialogue. make it happen! we have a meme tooo!

  • Tim

    Guess I'll buy a Hummer… With that analysis the best thing we can do is be as wasteful as possible and all drive the lowest mileage vehicles we can…. we'd "save gas" by all driving Hummers (apparently) because we'd drive "less" to make up the difference.

    We should also all use incandescent lightbulbs, old technology inefficient hot water heaters, 20 year old refrigerators, 30 year old air conditioners, and coal furnaces to heat our houses.

    Inefficiency…. the path to efficiency…. Sheer GENIUS!!!!!

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