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Summer 2007               Fueling Our Future

Gas-Electric Hybrid
Ranking: Green

Verdict:
Top-mileage hybrids are one of the best current options for emissions reduction, as we wait for better technologies to become available.

What is it?:
A gas-electric hybrid has both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor. The electric motor is charged by the turning of the wheels and through regenerative braking, and it’s used to assist the car in accelerating and going up hills, as well as running the car on low speeds. The electric motor also allows the combustion engine to stop running while the car is stopped.

Pros:
  • Hybrid cars emit about 30 percent less CO2 and 20 percent fewer volatile organic compounds than conventional vehicles. In addition, the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that hybrid cars can achieve a 90 percent reduction in smog-forming pollutants over conventional cars.
  • Hybrids are generally about 20-35 percent more efficient than gasoline cars, depending on the model, with the most efficient hybrid on the market achieving up to 60 miles per gallon—the closest we can get to the fuel economy goals in Green America’s 12-step plan to curb climate change. Higher fuel economy means that drivers require less gasoline—for example, driving a Toyota Camry hybrid will save 200 gallons of gasoline each year compared to a conventional Toyota Camry (based on fuel economy for city driving and 12,000 miles driven each year).
Cons:
  • Fuel-efficiency for most models isn’t yet up to where we need it to be; the 2007 Toyota Prius, with a best estimated city-driving fuel economy of 60 miles per gallon, is the only hybrid currently going far enough with fuel efficiency.
  • A 2005 study by Consumer Reports found large disparities between actual hybrid fuel economy and the ratings put out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As a result, the EPA mileage estimates across the board are being downgraded, with high-mileage hybrid vehicles getting a large hit here.
  • Although most hybrid-electric vehicles outperform conventional vehicles, they still rely heavily on carbon-spewing gasoline.
  • The tax credits that were put in place to encourage consumers to purchase hybrids, which tend to be a few thousand dollars more expensive than conventional cars, are being phased out as more hybrids are sold. The credit was originally worth up to $3,400 for those eligible, but begins phasing out after car manufacturers sell 60,000 hybrids total. After September 2007, Toyota and Lexus hybrid vehicles will no longer be eligible for the full tax credit. Learn more about the status of the tax credit here.
Current status:
Currently, hybrids are only about two to three percent of the vehicle market, a number that needs to significantly increase in coming years if we are to curb our fuel-related emissions and the global warming crisis. While there are 13 hybrids on the market in 2007, only two models achieve the 40 mpg threshold that experts say we need the majority of cars on the road to hit by 2012 if we’re to have a chance of combating the coming global warming crisis.  Many in the automotive world think that plug-in electric hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) are the next step in building low-emission vehicles.

Should You Make the Switch?:
If you’re buying a new car, running a diesel car on locally produced B100, or even B80, will result in a greater emissions reductions than switching to a hybrid (see the chart in this Real Green article on biodiesel).

If biodiesel isn’t an option, investing in a hybrid car is the next best choice available today. To help curb climate change, all new vehicles purchased by 2012 need to get at least 40 mpg (and by 2054, we need to get to 60 mpg). Look past the “hybrid” label and find a car with the highest possible fuel economy close to these targets—which right now are the Toyota Prius or the Honda Civic Hybrid.

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Fuel Rankings

plug-in electric hybridbiodieselgas-electric hybridcellulosic ethanolnatural gasultra-low-sulfur dieselhydrogen fuel cellsE85 corn ethanol

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