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Think beyond cars – including hybrids

Jennifer KirkpatrickVail, CO Colorado

Does a hybrid car really save you money? They ain’t cheap.- Alex

Short answer? Just kidding – there are never short answers, Alex. But I’ll give you one anyway and then extensively extrapolate: hybrids generally don’t pencil. That is, there are other cars that provide nearly the mileage of hybrids without the hefty sticker price – or better mileage, depending on your city/highway balance of miles. And now, we commence with extensive extrapolation…We all remember this summer’s surging fuel prices. As prices peaked well over three dollars a gallon, many of us questioned why we decided to buy that oversized, gas-guzzling SUV in the first place.American car companies claimed market demand for their woeful average fuel economy. But the Japanese again – as they are wont to do every 20 years, it seems – demonstrated Detroit’s myopic vision by selling heaps of efficient cars. Hybrids are the poster children for efficiency, of course. But beware; just because it says “hybrid” doesn’t mean you are buying “green” or even saving money.Let’s compare hybrids and their non-hybrid relatives, shall we? Unfortunately, some gas-hungry hybrids are giving other fuel efficient ones a bad name. The term “hybrid” has been conflated with “efficient,” but “hybrid” merely means the car has an electric drive motor in addition to the standard internal combustion one.For example, the Chevrolet C15 Silverado Hybrid toots its horn as part of the hybrid family yet gives only one mile per gallon in added efficiency. With those savings you might just pick up that car air freshener you’ve had your eyes on. Is the hybrid worth the extra few thousand?

But why are hybrids so expensive? Because, my friend, they are the new kids on the block with the commensurate new technology and new market appeal. As hybrids and more models in the green line are introduced, prices will decline. By then there will probably be a newer and better automobile that far exceeds hybrid gas savings – remember the electric car?Before you throw up your hands and go to your nearest Hummer dealer, know that you do have options. There are great “standard” fuel-efficient vehicles such as the Honda Fit (38 mpg hwy/31 mpg city), the Toyota Yaris (39/34), and the Nissan Versa (36/30). At $12,000 to $16,000, your only concern is what your hunting buddies will think.Diesel is also a great alternative, particularly with new low-sulphur diesel fuel and biodiesel access in our future. Volkswagen has diesel versions of Beetles, Jettas and Passat Wagons (what, no American contenders?). At around 41 m.p.g., these babies are the most fuel-efficient in their class.So our primary lesson today, Alex, is that from a cost perspective – which was your question – you should forget the term hybrid and concern yourself only with life-cycle cost; that’s purchase cost plus cost to operate minus resale value. Cost to operate is fuel and maintenance, which, for hybrids, includes battery replacement.

Now, you may actually have other concerns besides cost, including environmental impact – or what your hunting buddies will think. Hybrids generally get better points for overall green because they pollute less. And there’s also style and statement: It’s becoming oh-so-cool to be conscientious – right, hunting buddies?And don’t let’s forget, Alex, the cheapest gallon of fuel is the one never bought. Reduce your need for fuel – leave for work earlier to avoid traffic and prevent the need for lots of acceleration, keep tires properly inflated, ditch the rack (which creates drag), carpool or ride the bus.And while we’re at not forgetting things, let’s not forget that for all the reasons you may be shopping hybrids and more, the better decision may be to think beyond cars. Ride the bus, bicycle, walk or work from home – are all cheaper, less wasteful, less stressful and proven technologies. Some even give you more time in your day and greater health at the end of it.Hybrids are a great technological step towards a sustainable future, Alex. They remind us of the power of human ingenuity, the necessity of personal responsibility and the reasons we desperately need both.Efficiently,TerraTerra Mater is the alter-ego of Jennifer Kirkpatrick of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability (eaglevalleyalliance.org). If you have a question about local recycling, sustainability or other such issues, e-mail askterra@eaglevalleyalliance.org.


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