cars and you
James J. Winebrake
late 19th century, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison placed their bets
on two very different automotive technologies. Edison believed
electric vehicles would prove supreme in America; Ford, on the
other hand, thought the internal combustion engine would be America’s
technology of choice. Of course, Ford’s vision ultimately
came to pass, and the petroleum burning engines have dominated
the automotive industry ever since.
now a new vehicle technology that represents an Edison-Ford compromise
is rolling off vehicle production lines. Hybrid electric vehicles
(HEVs) have come of age and now have the potential to revolutionize
the automotive industry.
hybrids? Well, HEVs combine the best of what internal combustion
engine (ICE) vehicles and electric vehicles have to offer. Internal
combustion vehicles are extremely efficient at cruising speeds
where the engine can operate at an optimal RPM, while electric
vehicles are more efficient at low speed, high-torque events (such
as starting from a stop). An HEV includes both an ICE and an electric
motor. By using each technology under different driving conditions,
the vehicle can optimize its operation. These efficiencies allow
the Toyota Prius, for example, to get approximately 60 miles per
HEVs can “shut off” when the vehicle is stopped (for
example at a stop light or in traffic congestion), thereby reducing
fuel consumption during vehicle idling. In fact, due to this shut-off
feature, you will notice that the miles-per-gallon ratings for
HEVs are higher for city driving (stop-and-go traffic) than highway
driving, converse to ICE vehicles.
these efficiency gains, HEVs are able to achieve almost twice
as many miles per gallon as comparable conventionally powered
vehicles and improve vehicle performance. This reduces reliance
on petroleum, reduces emissions by 50 to 90 percent, and can cut
fuel costs in half.
Honda (Insight, Civic, Accord) and Toyota (Prius, Highlander,
Lexus) have HEV models commercially available (go to a show-room
and you will see them!). Others such as Ford (Escape) and GM (Silverado)
are planning on offering HEVs in 2005. And more will come; in
fact, Toyota recently announced that by 2011 every vehicle model
they offer will come with an HEV option.
is the down side? Well, currently HEVs cost from $2,000 to $5,000
more up front; however, some of that is offset by lower annual
fuel costs. For example, the Ford Escape hybrid will average 33
mpg, versus 15 mpg in its conventional form. A consumer who travels
10,000 miles per year will save about 550 gallons of gas. This
represents an annual savings of about $960 (assuming a gasoline
price of $1.75 per gallon) and a simple payback of less than five
a tank of gas for the HEV Escape will last 600 miles, so you’ll
spend less time at the gas station. Finally, tax incentives are
available from federal and state governments that can reduce the
upfront costs of purchasing an HEV. Up to $2,000 in federal tax
deductions are available for consumers who purchase HEVs and similar
deductions are expected to be extended in New York’s state
what about performance? Automakers recognize that one of the key
determinants dictating whether HEVs receive widespread market
acceptance is vehicle performance. All indicators point to HEVs
performing as well or better than their conventional counterparts.
For example, one reason why GM is looking to “hybridize”
its best-selling Silverado pick-up truck is so the truck will
have greater pulling power (using the electric motor) while maintaining
a reasonably sized internal combustion engine.
Winebrake is chair of the public policy department in RIT’s
College of Liberal Arts. His primary area of research is the
energy and environmental impacts of advanced transportation
technologies. Winebrake holds a B.S. in physics from Lafayette
College, a M.S. in technology and policy from MIT, and a Ph.D.
in energy management and policy from the University of Pennsylvania.
movement towards HEVs is a positive step in the automotive industry.
For current consumers, models are limited, so there just might
not be an HEV available for your needs – yet! But in the
near future, HEVs will become an option for almost every driver.
interested readers, more information about HEVs can be found on
automakers’ Web sites or at http://www.ott.doe.gov/hev/.