Speaking of long-term plans, Toyota has also developed a hybrid SUV using a hydrogen-power
Speaking of fuel economy, hybrids have gotten some bad press recently for delivering real-world mpg that's lower than their EPA ratings. Not that that's anything new; probably few of you are getting close to EPA fuel economy in your trucks, no matter what powertrain they're running. But when you buy a hybrid car that's supposed to get around 50 mpg, and you're getting 35 to 40, that's a downer.
Why is this happening? Beyond the usual gap between EPA numbers-which are generated in a climate-controlled lab with the vehicle on rollers, not on the road-and real-world mileage, many hybrids are designed to get their best fuel economy in stop-and-start urban driving conditions, which are not replicated very well in the EPA tests. Talk of disappointing fuel economy is one element in a hot debate: What's the true cost of owning a hybrid vehicle? Do the fuel savings offset the premium you have to pay at the dealership? Will the batteries really last? And what will it cost to replace them?
Let's tackle the battery issue first. It's true that if you had to replace the battery pack in today's hybrid trucks, you'd be out several thousand dollars. But that's a very big "if," for three reasons. First, every manufacturer warranties the hybrid components-including the batteries-for anywhere from eight to 10 years.
Second, the makers have logged hundreds of thousands of miles testing the hybrids and their battery packs and have found no premature battery pack failures (at least, none they'd report to the press). Makers are also keeping a close eye on their hybrid owners to check for such a thing, and so far have found no battery issues.
Hybrid drivetrains in trucks and SUVs aren't new; Dodge showed off a CNG/electric hybrid p
Third, battery technology, like so many other things, is constantly improving. Paul Williamsen, Toyota's product education manager, told us that the power density available in the Prius battery pack-in other words, the amount of power generated per battery mass-has almost doubled with each Prius generation. "The cost of those batteries also came down 50 percent or better at each threshold," he added. "So should a first-generation Prius owner need to replace the battery pack, it would be more powerful and less costly than the original batteries."
As for the issue of whether fuel savings offsets the hybrid's purchase premium, you have to figure out how many gallons of gas are saved driving the hybrid and compare the value of that fuel to the premium paid the dealer. For example: An AWD Toyota Highlander with the conventional V-6 carries a base sticker of $27,840, while a comparable AWD Highlander Hybrid's base price starts at $34,430, $6,590 over the cost of the gas-only version. The hybrid achieves a combined 29 mpg (per the EPA), while the gas-only SUV gets an average of 21 mpg, an improvement of 8 miles per gallon.
If you estimate the cost of gasoline at $2.20 per gallon (the national average for a gallon of regular at the time of this writing in late 2005 and the number the EPA uses to calculate annual fuel cost estimates), and you figure an average use of 15,000 miles per year, fuel costs for the hybrid model will be about $1,138 annually, compared to $1,571 for the conventional Highlander. Divide that $433 difference into the hybrid's $6,590 purchase premium and it'd take you 15 years to pay off the premium in fuel savings alone. Now, you can fudge that premium down somewhat by taking into account the 2006 federal tax credit for purchasers of gas/electric hybrids. The incentive varies by model; for the AWD Highlander it'll be about $2,200. Subtract that from the purchase premium and the payoff time is cut by a third-down to 10 years. Then again, you'd need to fudge the numbers back up some to account for the difference between EPA mileage and actual mpg. Bottom line: A hybrid will cost you less at the pump, but overall your bank account will be lighter for quite a while, unless gas prices take a big jump.
Toyota's long-term plans include offering a hybrid version of every vehicle it sells, incl
To Toyota's Williamsen, his company's hybrid customers-including legions of loyal Prius owners-find value in their purchases outside of their bank statement. "Our customers define value and what's meaningful to them beyond having to pencil it out at the other end. I mean think about it: Have you ever heard anyone make a dollars-and-cents argument for an SVT Lightning or a Corvette Z06?" Or, to extend Williamsen's argument, for a locked-and-lifted 4x4? We can all relate to the emotional gratification that comes from owning a cool trail rig. Hybrid owners feel much the same, but in a "green" way that may be somewhat foreign to our way of thinking.
Nick Cappa, DaimlerChrysler's manager of advanced technology public relations, sees the average consumer, and off-roaders in particular, as wary of hybrid technology. "Hybrids make up a half a percent of the industry right now; 100,000 to 200,000 vehicles. It's a speck. Hybrids are usually linked to people who want good fuel economy, who want to be green. But do people really want a 4x4 hybrid? Do they want better mileage off-road? Ultimately it's the customer who will decide if there's a market for a hybrid powertrain in an aggressively modified 4x4, and if they're willing to pay a premium for the system. Based on the size of the market right now, I'd say the answer is 'no,' and that internal-combustion horsepower is still king."
Unlike Toyota, DaimlerChrysler has put just a figurative toe in the hybrid waters, at least until recently. Earlier in the decade, the company made just 100 Ram HEVs-a diesel/electric hybrid on the heavy-duty pickup platform-and sold them to fleet customers. Currently the HEV project is "in limbo," according to Cappa.