Archive for the 'hybrids' Category

Getting out the ugly truth about Plug Ins

Monday, February 14th, 2022

My girlfriend, loyal soul that she is, attaches to people and things like I do.

That is to say, we both hold on to people and things that have been good to us, and try to be good to them in return.

In my case, it’s my bicycle. The same one I arrived at college with in 1993. Something it amuses my friend Sam to observe. He likes to point out that when we ran into each other 15 years after college, I was on that very bike, owned the very same car, and even had very same home audio setup, CD player and all.

In my girlfriend’s case, her friends are longstanding, and she’s been loyal to her first apartment, her first car. And her second iPod.

While I admire this trait in us both, and in others, and was reminding my friend Peter just today that he’s a rock because he too is loyal to people and his things, I think it’s a dangerous tendency to hold on to ‘this tendency to hold on’ in other areas of life.

To gasoline, for example.

Just as my girlfriend doesn’t use her phone to store her music, or even stream it, but carries around her trusty iPod to bring music into her life, when I suggest to people that they are the ideal candidates for an EV, they clutch and cling onto what they’ve known like they can’t imagine living in any other way.

A childhood friend, one of my oldest, is currently looking at cars. And seems quite intent on the notion of a plug in hybrid. “Hybrid” to the average consumer means “good for the environment.” And Plug In Hybrid can be driven more often on battery alone, making the action of plugging it in, and driving for the first 10, 20, even 30 miles on electricity alone feel like you’re a brave pioneer, venturing into the unknown, like those who have already been using an EV for two decades.

But here’s the ugly truth about the Plug In Hybrid. You’re not twice as friendly as your gas counterparts. And in fact in some ways, you’re only risking twice the harm to others.

You see, the hybrid is a curious mix of a gasoline vehicle and a battery pack. A plug in hybrid adds the plug, and perhaps a larger battery, so you can charge that battery not just as you slow down, but also with a wall outlet or charger where you park. The fundamental problem with this approach is you’re now cramming two different types of motor and fuel storage into one car. You’re consuming twice, under the same, familiar sheetmetal. And that makes them heavier, which makes them more cumbersome when it comes time to turn or to stop. Wears through tires and roads faster too.

It also means there’s less room for things like passengers and cargo, especially when compared to EVs, that can have much smaller motors and transmissions, and store their energy in their floors, not between their rear wheels as is almost always the case with a fossil fuel engined vehicle.
An EV can be incredibly space efficient in ways a gasoline or diesel powered vehicle never could. A plug in hybrid is no better than its gas counterpart in this regard. And is sometimes worse.

Wheras many feel a EV drives ‘better’, sometimes the hybrid or plug in hybrid drives worse. Particularly in something high riding, which is increasingly popular these days. (People think they’re safer up high, even though they aren’t.)

If you plan to sit up high, better reason to have the heaviest parts of the car stay down low as much as possible. So EVs make a whole lot of sense if you’re thinking “I’d like an SUV.” of any sort. (Two possible exceptions: BMWs and Subarus, that drop their engines’ centers of gravity lower than others.)

When your plug in hybrid runs out of juice those 10, 20, or even 30 miles from home, they’ll drive just as poorly if not worse than a hybrid. And while you wont hear a gasoline engine at work when the battery can move you, the car will still feel the effects of that extra weight bounding and swaying, which can feel both cumbersome and tiresome.

Hybrids and plug in Hybrids make more sense in cars. You know, sedans, or hatchbacks, or wagons. Especially small engined, front drive ones, where the extra weight balances the car out better than conventional versions, making them feel more like their superior, and dearer, rear drive cousins.
But if you’re going higher, remember to keep your weight lower.
Your complexity too.

Oh that’s right. I didn’t mention: because there’s no free lunch in physics and engineering, that added complexity leads to more to wear or break, more complexity to diagnose. So if you believe in Keep It Simple, Stupid, again EVs come in ahead of “Internal Combustion Engine” ‘d vehicles, or ICE cars as some call them. And once again, coming in third, is the (Plug In) Hybrid.

“But, wait!” you’re probably saying. “I want to save gas!”

And pulling up to the pump less often can feel good.

But the truth remains that hybrids, because they’re more complex and more marketable, sell for more money, so it takes a number of years for what you save in gas to cancel out how much extra you’ve paid for the vehicle in the first place. (And plug ins, while they get even better overall MPG on average, are more expensive still. So you have to do the math and see if it really adds up in your favor, or you’re just being sold to.)

So to review:
Less expensive to fuel.

But:
More Expensive to buy.
More likely to break.
More expensive to fix.
More clumsy to maneuver.

Do these sound like things we should be holding onto?

Or do they sound like ugly things we should leave behind, in the past, where they belong?

Has ‘hybrid’ lost all meaning?

Saturday, October 8th, 2005

Like ‘SUV’, the term ‘hybrid’ has become a media buzzword that’s now being slapped on an increasing number of vehicles. While many deride SUVs as unsafe and inefficient, I can name cars that don’t handle as well and drink more fuel than – say – a Subaru Forester or BMW X3.

I recently drove the Lexus RX400h in the type of urban driving that the hybrid is supposed to be best at and averaged 18 miles per gallon, while Motor Trend’s Long Term test of a 2004 Chevy Silverado Hybrid resulted in an overall average of 14.8mpg.

Has ‘hybrid’ simply come to mean ‘less inefficient than it might have been’?