We feel it every time we have to go to the pump. It’s that heart racing, knot-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach, head spinning feeling of an anxiety attack. An attack brought on by gasoline prices that are skyrocketing out of control! With no end in sight, consumers are exploring their options, and one of the rising trends is the hybrid vehicle. But are these hybrids all they’re cracked up to be?
Hybrid vehicles are cars that run on a combination of a rechargeable battery, an electric motor and a gasoline engine. Though there is an electric motor, the hybrid vehicle never needs to be plugged in, due to a concept of regenerative braking. When the brakes are applied in a standard car, energy is typically lost in the deceleration process. In a hybrid vehicle that energy is recaptured and used to recharge the battery. If necessary, power can also be diverted from the gasoline engine to boost the battery as well.
Reduced fuel consumption is the hybrid’s claim-to-fame, but can it live up to its reputation? The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) conducts testing on all motor vehicles, to determine their average fuel consumption. The results are given in miles per gallon in city driving and for highway driving. Their results indicate that hybrid vehicles may offer as high as 68 mpg, though real world experience has offered lowered expectations. There are various factors that will reduce the performance of these vehicles. The most prominent ones include acceleration, air conditioning, temperature, idle time, driving speed. In making the transition from standard cars to hybrids, these must be taken into consideration and driving habits may need to be adjusted.
There are also other differences between the two types. In many cases you will have to wait for a hybrid, unlike standard vehicles you can usually purchase directly off the lot. Supply has yet to meet the demand. In addition, don’t expect the roominess of a traditional sedan, though sizes are on the increase for hybrid selections. Finally, there is the cost factor. You can expect to pay at least twenty five percent more for a hybrid vehicle than a comparably equipped fuel only option. Though there are often governmental incentives that can help offset some of the difference.
The majority of automobile manufacturers have hybrids either in their current line or in development. They are offered in a variety of styles and options: cars, SUV’s, trucks, and minivans. Automakers that have set the standards in luxury vehicles are entering the hybrid arena; showcasing vehicles with voice activated navigation systems, all wheel drive, and a leather interior. Even the most basic of hybrid vehicles offer such standard features as antilock brakes and cruise control.
Toyota dominates with the Prius, the number one selling hybrid vehicle. It offers roominess, cargo space, and added safety features; as well as some choice bells and whistles – like a DVD navigation system, satellite radio, and an ultra cool keyless starter. Winning award after award, this vehicles dominance is not likely to fade any time soon.
Honda produces three hybrid options. The two-seater Insight will provide you with the best gas mileage of any hybrid available today, but is small and noisy – and Honda is uncertain of how long they will continue to manufacture this model. The Civic and Accord also offer hybrid versions, but this time with rave reviews! Performance, efficiency, and style rate high for the hybrids, often times higher than the traditional models.
Ford introduced the first sport utility vehicle on the market with the Ford Escape. This SUV offers better gas mileage, but less cargo room or optional features than its standard counterpart. In addition, production is pretty limited for this one; so don’t get your heart set on it just yet!
Other makers are expecting to roll out vehicles in the next few years. General Motors, Dodge, Mercury and Lexus all have timelines for hybrid vehicle debuts. In addition, expect an onslaught of hybrid SUV’s to be making an appearance in the near future, as well as a few trucks and minivans.
The face of the hybrid is changing, and people are responding. The current market trend indicates that in coming years hybrids will continue to infiltrate the auto market, accounting for about five percent of all sales by most conservative estimates. The most optimistic estimates put that figure significantly higher, at about eighty percent. With staggering fuel prices, global warming, and environmental pollution we owe it to our future to explore the hybrid. We can’t afford to wait; the time for action is now.