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Combustion, Electric, Hybrid or Quadruped?

I drive a 2008 Ford Escape. In keeping with Henry Ford’s reputation as an automobile pioneer, the Escape was the first American hybrid car. The vehicle’s innovation was introduced in 2008 during the critical dip in the domestic car market. The body was redesigned to a rounder, more aerodynamic style in order to reduce drag and increase fuel economy. The hybrid version utilizes some of the same technology as the popular Toyota Prius, like shutting off at stoplights.

It may surprise you to learn, however, that I do not drive the hybrid model. The day I purchased my vehicle, I arrived at the dealership with every intention of purchasing the hybrid. After learning more about the vehicle’s virtues and shortcomings, I decided against it.

Here are the reasons why I chose to purchase a traditional internal combustion engine. First, the sticker price for the hybrid model is higher than that of the regular one. When I estimated gas savings, I found that they were absorbed by the higher payment. Second, when I began inquiring about the electric battery pack, I had concerns. The estimated life of the battery is only 5 years. After that, the battery has to be replaced. A replacement battery is several thousand dollars – a substantial cost. Further, no one seems to have a good explanation for what will happen to these batteries when they are retired, whether they can be remanufactured or if they will just end up in a landfill.

Overall, my analysis was that the hybrid presented neither a cost savings nor a measurable benefit to the environment. I believe in the principals and intentions of hybrid technology, but it remains unperfected. Like many green efforts, I believe that this is one that may go down as a good idea that missed the mark.

Hybrid vehicles are fueled by gasoline and use batteries and electric motors to improve efficiency. Electric vehicles, or EVs, are powered strictly by electric motors. An electric motor gets its energy from a controller, a device which regulates the amount of power the motor uses based upon the driver’s use of the accelerator. Energy is stored in rechargeable batteries, which can be recharged by a common household outlet.

Here are some pros and cons of electric vehicles vs. gasoline vehicles:

Electric Vehicles:

*No greenhouse gas emissions.
*Powered by local utility company.
*100+/- mile travel range.
*Approximately 35 minutes to recharge.
*Fuel costs about 2 cents per mile.

Gasoline Vehicles:

*Emit greenhouse gases.
*Continued reliance on foreign oil.
*300+ mile travel range.
*Approximately 5 minutes to refuel.
*Fuel costs about 12 cents per mile.

EVs offer a quieter ride and smoother operation than their gasoline-powered counterparts. Acquiring cleaner energy from local sources limits our nation’s dependency on foreign oil and mitigates the CO2 emissions generated from refining and transporting oil.

However, limited range of travel and the time required to recharge have prevented the EV from becoming a practical choice for most car owners.  The production of electricity also has an environmental impact. In addition, battery packs are expensive and have relatively short life spans. These materials also must be disposed.

EVs tend to carry a higher sticker price than regular cars. Of the seven new electric cars released on the market in 2011, prices ranged from about $33,000 to $87,500. Some of this cost could be offset by federal and state tax credits. The Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 and the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 established tax credits for new, qualified plug-in electric and plug-in hybrid motor vehicles.

Clearly, there is no way to avail ourselves of modern travel options without causing some negative impact on the environment. Electric cars may prove to be just one more experiment in our generation’s quest for green. Me? I’d rather just have a pony.

Green Tip for October:

A very creative man named Armando Ramirez has elevated the act of recycling car parts to an art form. He designs fabulous chess sets from items like used spark plugs and gears, and you can own one of these green conversation pieces.

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