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Reader J. Pickens responded to my Toyota Camry Hybrid review with the following criticism :

Its really too bad that the net energy use by your new hybrid is actually HIGHER than it would be for the non-hybrid version of the Camry. This is due to the extra energy cost of the electric motors, wiring, and, especially, the nickel metal hydride batteries which are not present in the non-hybrid Camry. Add it up, you are getting around an extra 10 to 15mpg for around 150,000 miles of battery lifetime. So, the 25mpg Camry uses 150,000/25 = 6000 gallons of gasoline. The 38mpg Camry uses 150,000/38 = 3950 gallons. The difference is 2050 gallons. At $3 per gallon, that is around $6000. Try pricing out the batteries and motors, they cost far more than $6000. Why is that? Because of the energy cost of building them. Its a fun toy, but don't fool yourself into thinking you are being "Green". You are being a pseudoenvironmentalist dupe, in my opinion.

Pickens raises some common concerns when talking about hybrids, and they are largely valid. Here is my response:

There are two factors to consider, the cost to me, and the cost to society as a whole.

For me, clearly the hybrid is a win. I was going to spend $30k on a car no matter what, so the cost of the car up front is a wash. Granted, I probably would have “more car” for 30k in a non-hybrid, but each driver's personal utility/value from particular features is subjective. Personally, I get a lot of utility out of the gadget factor of a car (or many other things I own). I use fancy gadgety cell phones, gadgety computers, I am a gadget geek, and the hybrid is high on that metric. With a hybrid, your mileage may vary. (ha)  So my utility is the same, but my cost is less, I get the fuel savings outlined by Pickens above ($6000 by his estimation), plus I get the tax credits. $2,600 federal, plus $500 Iowa = $3100 in tax savings, for a grand total of $9,100 in savings over the life of the car. I think the gas savings will actually be higher, since as a benefit of switching from the Passat to the Camry, I get to switch from premium gas to regular.

For me (and I think for anyone) a $9000 savings on the life of a car more than gets to the break even point, especially when you take into acount the alternative. People looking at the Hybrid Camry are not going to pick an old beater, or a new Hyundai Accent for $10k. They are going to choose a Passat, or a regular camry, or a lexus, or an SUV, or something else that is also in the $25-30k range, and certainly more than the $20k that the car actually cost ($30k - 9,100 in lifetime savings). (I am of course ignoring costs which both cars would incur like oil changes, which are just a wash).

Clearly on a personal level, this is a win.

Now on to the tougher question, the cost/benefit to society. Here, the answer is murky. For a hybrid car, today, there is probably a cost to society. The tax credits are reducing tax revenue, which will either cause an increase in the defecit, or a reduction in government expenditure (likely the former, but if it was the latter, I might consider that a win, especially if the cuts came from pork (go porkbusters!)).  The reduction in fuel use is a benefit, and while my personal reduction is negligable, the aggregate reduction of all hybrid drivers probably does shift the demand curve over a bit. The increased cost of the batteries and electic motors results in a reduction of profit (but I am sure even the hybrid camry is still at least breaking even for them) for Toyota shareholders, but in exchange they are getting a lot of free publicity - I call that a wash since they pay many many millions for that same publicity throughout the year. In reality there might be no loss in profit to Toyota, since if they didn't make the hybrid Camry, I (and others) might well have bought a car from a different manufacturer. This would of course be just a redistribution of profit, and not an actual loss to society as a whole. It could have some interesting defecit impacts though, since I would have prefered to by a domestic over an import, but no equivilent domestic car is offered. Also the emissions of the hybrid are MUCH better than standard cars. EPA estimates the Camry Hybrid to have 80% less emissions than an equivilent non-hybrid.

So for the present time, the total cost or benefit is questionable, my guess it is either break even. But what about tommorow? Solar cells, another green favorite have been around for decades, and they are just now getting to the break even point on energy cost. Advances in technology take time, and early generations are always inefficient. It was probably cheaper to own a horse than buy a Model T, 100 years ago. But not many people drive horses to work today. Someone has to be the spearhead, and since it doesn't cost me anything to take that role, I choose that destiny freely.

Lets face it, the world is facing an energy crisis. Between peak oil, the industrialization of China and India (resulting in massive increases in demand for oil), turmoil in the middle east - both for the effects on oil supply, and on national sovereignty - clearly the US, and the world, are going to have to move away from an oil based economy. Hybrids are a step in that direction. Hybrids plus E85 (from sugar beets rather than corn in my opinion - even though I am from Iowa) are a second step. Full electric or hydrogen cars at some point in the future, maybe powered by a nuclear grid - who knows? But they need to work out the kinks in these systems. Having a car that is driven by an electric motor, regardless of where the electric motor is ultimately powered from, is a fundamental step to the future. We can change from gas to e85, to grid, as an incremental step later. But the first step is today, and for me...

I step into a Toyota Camry Hybrid. YMMV :)

update 7/11/06 9:16 am: I found this large entry talking about hybrid economics. It goes into quite a bit of math to come up with the numbers. It largely agrees with what I stated above, but comes out saying that hybrids are probably not a win (from a purely $ today) They do think that hybrids are the best ecological choice. I think they are ignoring the large effect of the tax credits, as well as comparing everything against an economy car, which I think is a false assumption - people are going to spend roughly the same on their car no matter what, the fuel efficiency is a bonus.

update 7/12/06 3:22 pm: J Pickens replied to this post, so I continued the thread of Are hybrids really green - Alternative Energy Sources

Posted on Tuesday, July 11, 2006 5:32 AM gadgets , politics | Back to top


Comments on this post: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - The real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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Actually, Toyota is making a significant amount of money licensing the Hybrid technology to other automakers, like Ford and Chevy. Those automakers had to decide whether to spend R&D on their own technology or license Toyota' superior technology, and all, as far as I have heard, have chosen the latter.
It is obviously more than break even as well. Toyota is also making a profit in an industry that is in a serious downturn. Ford and GM had record losses in 2005 yet Toyota had profits.
Left by Scott Miller on Jul 11, 2006 6:18 AM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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Jason, are you running Ethanol? I lose almost 6 MPG in my Civic Hybrid. Oh and wait until winter rolls around you may lose another couple mpg. I get 47 in the summer and about 42 in the winter here in Iowa.

Left by RipRip on Jul 11, 2006 10:37 AM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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The more people buy hybrids, the more their cost will come down -- batteries and electric motors significantly benefit from economies of scale. The more hybrids are out there, the cheaper plug-in hybrids become, and that's where the real win is.
Left by Stan Wilson on Jul 11, 2006 12:34 PM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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Thanks for taking the time to address my points.
Your evaluation of the net energy benefit of the hybrid cars as being not as advertised is refreshing. Whenever I have made these points with other hybrid car bloggers, I have been met with denial and derision.

Also, the comment that solar cells being "just near the point of breakeven" has been claimed for at least the last thirty years. I'm sorry, but photovoltaic electric power generation just isn't the answer. I personally was a member of a team which produced the first thin film photovoltaic cells able to get greater than 10% energy conversion in large area cells. This was back in the mid '80's, and the cells haven't gotten much better since then. Thermodynamics and Quantum Mechanics are a bitch. Even if we were able to use 20% efficiency cells, and plaster them over all the available land in the sunny southwest, we still wouldn't produce as much electricity as the current nuclear power plants in the US. In addition, the energy used to produce, mount, and maintain the cells would not reach breakeven for many years, so you'd actually CONSUME all that power BEFORE you got any of it back.

And the "peak oil" comment is laughable. There are many times the amount of hydrocarbon fuels available in the ground in the US than has already been consumed. It is a matter of political will and cost per barrel to get at them.

Now, maybe we can talk about other "Green" pseudoenvironmentalist disasters, like the need for thousands of daily round trips by diesel fueled trucks to remove municipal garbage from population centers like New York City and deliver the refuse to places like Ohio and West Virginia. If this refuse were burned in incinerators to produce electricity, you would offset more in energy use in one day than all the windmill generators in operation in the US produce in one year.
Left by J. Pickens on Jul 11, 2006 6:35 PM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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J. Pickens, if you called the other bloggers pseudoenvironmentalist dupes as well then I'm not surprised they met you're comments with derision. I am surprised that this blogger was so polite considering the tone of your comment. Good for him.

Electricity from the grid is still less expensive than electricity from solar panels. But, if you compare the cost per mile of gasoline at $3/gal with the cost per mile of electricity from solar panels, the solar panels are less expensive. The breakeven point depends on the fuel economy of the car and the price of gas but it's somewhere around $2/gallon. This is based on some numbers I've seen for the Prius (45mpg with gas, and .24 kWh/mile with electricity). This is where I think hybrids will start to pay off in terms of reducing our oil use. With a plug-in hybrid it is conceivable to use solar power for a daily commute. I believe it would work for my 20 mile round trip commute to work. And that's the majority of my driving.

All the technology pieces to make this work exist today, hybrids, plug-in conversions, solar panels (or wind power), and net metering, they just need to be put together.
Left by Michael on Jul 12, 2006 11:48 AM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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There's one point you didn't address that I believe Mr. Pickens was trying to raise which gets lost in the emotions about hybrids, E85, etc.

While it's undeniable that hybrids use less fossil fuel to operate, the real question is how much extra fossil fuel the manufacturing of a hybrid and its components use?

I'm no scientist, but I continue to read some sources that say that when you consider the additional energy consumed in building battery systems and other high-tech components of a hybrid car (and the potential environmental issues with their proper disposal), hybrids may in fact be (at best) an energy "wash", meaning there is no net saving of anything over the long-run.
Left by Steve C. on Jul 13, 2006 4:15 AM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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Michael,
Please document proof that Hybrids use less net energy than an equivalently powered conventional car, and I will take it back.
Funny thing, Honda and Toyota have never made such proof available. I wonder why?
My thesis that the cost of the addtional parts exceeds the cost of the fuel offset by the hybrid drive is provable, just call the dealerships and get price quotes, as I have done. What mechanism is it that makes you believe that the economic cost and the energy cost of these parts are unrelated?
Why do you believe that Hybrids are net energy savers? What proof do you have?

Pseudoenvironmentalist dupe is a perfectly good term to describe those who take these points of view without addressing their truth.
Left by J. Pickens on Jul 13, 2006 5:35 AM

# re: Economic analysis, try Camry Hybrid, YOU'LL LOVE IT!
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Fact: Toyota pays less for parts than prices quoted by dealerships for replacement.
Fact: None of the posters above have ANY IDEA how much energy/emission is expended in the manufacture of parts.
Fact: If you purchase solely based on numerical cost/benefit analysis like above, you will buy a used BICYCLE (cheap, no emissions, best power-speed conversion known to mankind, healthy for you to operate, etc etc etc)
Fact: I just drove 500 miles for about $30 in gas in an '07 Camry Hybrid
Fact: When I drop my kids off at school/library/pool etc there are signs that say "Idle-Free Zone"... That doesn't apply to me because when I'm stopped the GAS MOTOR ISN'T RUNNING. Same thing in stop-and-go traffic commutes. That just makes so much sense in design/engineering/environmental/cost that ALL CARS SHOULD BE BUILT LIKE CAMRY HYBRID.
Left by Dean B on Oct 20, 2006 9:07 AM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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"Pseudoenvironmentalist dupe is a perfectly good term to describe those who take these points of view without addressing their truth."

You certainly know yourself well!!

"...just call the dealerships and get price quotes, as I have done..."

You poor sod.

Oh J. Pickens is in the house, lay out that red carpet!!
Left by I.P. Freely on Dec 06, 2006 9:29 PM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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Massive Toyota Recall Affects Nearly One Million
Includes 283,000 Prius Hybrids

May 31, 2006

Toyota Motor Corp. is recalling nearly 1 million vehicles around the world to replace faulty parts that could cause drivers to lose control of the steering wheel.

Included in the recall are 170,000 Prius models in the U.S. and 113,000 of the hybrids in Japan.

The recall affects vehicles across 10 models, including the popular Prius. The intermediate shafts and sliding yokes in the recalled cars lack the necessary strength and could distort or crack under strong pressure, causing drivers to lose control of the steering wheel, according to Toyota.

Toyota is recalling roughly 170,000 Prius models in the U.S. because the steering shaft assembly could become loose or crack.

Updated: 8:08 a.m. CT May 18, 2005
WASHINGTON - Toyota Motor Corp., in one of its largest safety recalls ever, said Tuesday it is recalling more than 750,000 pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles because of problems with the front suspension that could hinder steering.

The company said the recall covers 774,856 vehicles in the United States, including the 2001-2004 model years of the Tacoma, the 2001-2002 versions of the 4Runner and the 2002-2004 model years of the Tundra and Sequoia.

Toyota said the surface of a ball joint which connects to the front suspension may have been scratched when it was manufactured, which could lead to wear and tear over time.

POSTED: 8:43 a.m. EST, January 19, 2007
Toyota to recall 533,000 SUVs, trucks
Automaker says 11 accidents were reported because of a defect that makes Sequoia, Tundra difficult to steer.
TOKYO (Reuters) -- Toyota Motor Corp. plans to recall about 533,000 Sequoia SUVs and Tundra pickup trucks in the United States to repair faulty components that could make the vehicles difficult to steer.

Six injuries and 11 accidents were reported as a result of the defect, Japan's top automaker said Friday.

Toyota, on its way to becoming the world's biggest auto maker ahead of General Motors Corp., has vowed to step up its quality efforts after a rise in vehicle recalls and increased scrutiny from Japanese media over quality issues.

The latest recall covers certain 2004 to 2007 model year Sequoias and 2004 to 2006 model year Tundras, both built at Toyota's Indiana plant, the automaker's U.S. sales unit said in a statement.
Left by Pearl Harbor on Jan 27, 2007 5:51 PM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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I am not really interested in a cost-benefit analysis of hybrids v. traditional vehicles. Everything I have seen about whether or not they are really green, including the analyses above, lapse into a cost-benefit analysis by using dollars as the unit of measurement. What I want to know is if in the end, you are truly helping the global warming situation in some small way. Pickens seems to suggest you aren't, but measures this in dollars, rather than greenhouse gas emissions (total - greenhouse emissions to produce the vehicle and greenhouse emissions to run the vehicle). The point is that the cost of these emissions isn't in the pricing stucture - it is a public bad. Has anyone seen such an analysis because that would be the whole point of buying one for me. Also, I see that in addition to greehouse gas emissions, there might be some other environmental impacts, but I only see either a hybrid talked about without the comparison, usually by people trying to point out the problems with the hybrid. Bottom line, has anyone seen an analysis expressed in some unit other than monetary of these vehicles?
Left by Heather on Feb 03, 2007 1:23 PM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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Heather: check out this link which lays out the environmental costs of hybrids vs conventional vehicles.

http://clubs.ccsu.edu/Recorder/editorial/editorial_item.asp?NewsID=188
Left by Bill Jones on Nov 19, 2007 9:48 AM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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Just an innocent question - Has any body discussed what happens when the batteries die - are they not bad for the planet? Is this really a good alternative for the long run?
Left by helene on Jun 23, 2008 9:39 PM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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Somewhere a manufacture, use, to the graveyard comparative analysis needs to be done on hybrids vs traditional. Not just cost, but also and more importantly environmental impact. This includes mining of the materials to make the variations in design, replacement as compared to conventional, and disposal cost and impact vs conventional. I wish to own own, but could only do so with secure knowledge that it more than just a statement,, that it is a better environmental alternative.
Left by Chris on Jul 04, 2008 11:20 PM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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Though the hard costs are a measure there are some faults in the analysis. I noticed that the upfront purchase price was considered "a wash", thus the hybrid's major hard cost was not considered, when an equivalent non-Hybrid fuel efficient car costs several thousands less.

On top of the analysis I also consider other intangible factors such as emissions and reduced driver enjoyment with today's hybrids (CR-Z may be the best compromise to this). I did my own analysis on my blog (but please understand that my viewpoint considers the intangibles). conflictedracer.wordpress.com
Left by conflictedracer on Sep 21, 2010 4:52 AM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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CR-Z? LOL. All these hybrids are really quite useless, if you knew even a bit on cars you'd know there's no point on purchasing a hybrid.

Hell, you can buy a early 90's/late 80's Mercedes 300
which gets over 50mpg and are known to last forever.

Can easily be found for dirt cheap, spend money on a decent re-painting and voila. A nice looking car which is more practical, enjoyable, reliable, safer, quicker, and far cheaper.
Left by Jerome on Nov 08, 2010 8:08 AM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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Big Auto has hoodwinked consumers into believing their products are as green as they can possibly get. But it may be too late for the automakers to put the hybrid cat back in the bag. Everybody has seen what the best of hybrid technology can do, shattering Detroit's myth that it lacks the know-how to greatly extend average fuel economy.
Left by Business contract hire on Mar 16, 2011 10:39 PM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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The 2011 Toyota Camry Hybrid is my favorite car and it ranks twelth out of eighteen Affordable classic and middle size Cars. This ranking is based on various car analysis and they taken test drives of the Toyota Camry Hybrid, and thier analysis say that its very reliabile and safe.
Left by Used Cars on Mar 24, 2011 9:30 PM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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Great benefits! You did a very thorough account. I want a hybrid car, I can imagine how much money can I save if I own one. I didn't know that Toyota is making hybrids.
Left by cheap car insurance on Mar 27, 2011 2:22 AM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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Close cousins terbium and dysprosium are added in smaller amounts to the alloy to preserve neodymium's magnetic properties at high temperatures. Yet another rare earth metal, lanthanum, is a major ingredient for hybrid car batteries.
Left by Haulage Contractor on Apr 06, 2011 11:12 PM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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Toyota Camry is my best car now days, its having very impressive look and very shining body. and very important thing about this is its a hybrid model, which means its a eco-friendly car!!!
thanks for sharing with us!!
Left by Mack Trucks on Apr 21, 2011 9:28 PM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green - An Economic analysis of the real cost and benefits of owning a hybrid
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Hybrids are definitely a good choice for many because of the reduce pollution in addition to lower gas costs.
Left by Ford Orange County on Mar 11, 2012 3:35 PM

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