Hybrid cars: The next rage

Chuck Roberts

Electric vehicles (EVs) appear to be the next big bust. Cost, lack of charging stations, limited range, maintenance, etc., all weigh into the significant lack of EV sales at dealers. Many people don’t want them. Chicago drivers stuck in a traffic jam during a snowstorm last year ended up with discharged EV batteries and had to be towed. Two years ago, the US government provided $7.5 billion for a network of EV charging stations nationwide. To date, seven charging stations have been constructed. At this rate, the development of charging stations across the country will hamper the future use of EVs.  For more information on EV problems, see the guest column in the Rochelle News-Leader, Sept. 6, 2023.

So, the next buzz is to get a hybrid vehicle. Hybrid vehicles (HEVs) have two different propulsion systems, an internal combustion engine (ICE) and an external combustion motor (ECM).  A motor is an energy conversion device that accepts energy from an external power source that usually requires fuel combustion to generate the energy (the hybrid vehicle internal combustion engine or an external power generating plant). Some hybrid vehicles can charge batteries from an external source. 

Proponents of hybrid vehicles present the following: A typical HEV gets an average of about 46 miles per gallon combined highway/city. The typical gas-powered vehicle gets about 25 miles per gallon average highway/city driving. The money saved from reduced gasoline usage depends on the per gallon cost. Proponents often assume rising gas prices, but if the opposition to the current administration is elected, the price per gallon may be reduced significantly, extending the economic payback period. Reduced fuel consumption compared to gas-powered vehicles contributes to cleaner air.   HEVs are more expensive up front, but tax incentives, rebates and gas savings reduce the effective purchase price. There is a decreased dependency on fossil fuels. Regenerative braking lets the drive motor system feed electricity to the batteries during braking, recovering energy usually lost during braking, which is a reason for the increased efficiency. There is quieter operation of the vehicle. Because of their increased popularity and the advertisement that they are more environmentally friendly, the resale value is claimed to be better than that of internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs). In some cities, carpool lanes allow HEVs even with one person in the vehicle.

Opponents of hybrid vehicles put forth the following: HEVs have a higher cost due to their more complex technology and two different propulsion systems. Battery replacement is costly. Since HEVs are more complex than the average internal combustion vehicle, maintenance costs are high and often require specialized service centers. The battery has a limited range. Most of the fuel savings come from in-town driving. On long highway trips, the internal combustion engine provides most of the power. The weight of an HEV is more than that of an ICEV, which affects acceleration, handling and increased tire wear. Tire particles from wear are a pollutant. The environmental benefits are offset by the environmental impact of the extraction and processing of rare earth metals required for the batteries and other components. Resale value is uncertain depending on battery life remaining and cost of gasoline. If you tow a snowmobile trailer, boat trailer, or small box trailer, forget it. The towing capacity is limited. When towing, the electric motor propulsion system is disengaged. Some HEVs operating on electricity are very quiet, so manufacturers have added additional noise so that pedestrians can hear the HEVs coming. According to Forbes, HEVs cost approximately six percent more, on average, to insure than internal combustion engine vehicles.

HEVs have advantages and disadvantages. Avoid relying on dealers or sales associates for advice on purchasing an HEV. Talking to an owner of an HEV is helpful, but sometimes, a person who bought an HEV lemon will not admit it. If you decide to purchase an HEV, good luck. If you are prone to virtue signaling because of the HEV’s alleged environmental benefit, go for it. Undoubtedly, your virtuous friends will be delighted.  At least for us people with ICEVs, gas stations will still be available.

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