Automakers Aren't Delivering Full Potential of Hybrids

Stronger federal standards on fuel economy will ensure that hybrid technology is used most effectively, according to the  Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which released its annual scorecard of hybrids on Wednesday.

The current crop of hybrid vehicles demonstrate that automakers know how to provide dramatic fuel savings and pollution reductions, but have yet to fully deliver those benefits.

UCS’s Hybrid Scorecard evaluates 34 hybrids for their fuel efficiency, environmental improvement, consumer value, and "forced features" automakers install that artificially inflate the cost of some models.

"It’s not just the Toyota Prius and everyone else anymore," says Don Anair, a senior UCS engineer and the scorecard’s author. "Automakers from Ford to Hyundai and Honda to Nissan are using hybrid technology to boost fuel economy and cut pollution without breaking the bank for consumers."

But they could go much further and need strong standards to spur them on. Automakers’ emphasis is still much more on the electronic gadgets, premiums like leather seats, and muscle power than it is in on making large gains in mileage and emissions reduction.

Anair notes that nine of the 10 top-selling hybrids from January 1 through April get over 30 miles per gallon (mpg) and score above average for environmental improvement and value.

However, only 13 of the 34 hybrids reviewed cut more than 25% of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by their conventional vehicle counterparts. The worst offender, the Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid, emits less than 10% less, an all-time low on the scorecard.

"Automakers are still producing hybrids that fail to deliver on the technology’s potential to dramatically improve fuel economy," Anair says. "Their focus on maximizing power over consumer value risks the future of hybrid technology."

Later this year, the Obama administration will roll out its proposed vehicle efficiency and pollution standards for new vehicles and light trucks built between 2017 and 2025. These standards, which could be as strong as 60 mpg and a 6% annual reduction in global warming emissions, hold the key to the future of hybrid technology, Anair says.

"Strong clean car standards would ensure that automakers make the most of hybrid technology to boost fuel economy and cut emissions," he says.

The Prius remains the top non-luxury model in the scorecard’s environmental improvement category, delivering a more than 40% reduction in emissions compared with its closest conventional models. The combination of the Prius’ high fuel economy, good value, and relatively small number of forced features help make it the best-selling hybrid, accounting for about half of all hybrid sales.

Other non-luxury models scoring high on environmental improvement include the Ford Fusion Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

In the luxury market, the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid and Lexus CT200h earn top environmental improvement scores. Like the Prius, they cut emissions by over 40% compared to their conventional luxury counterparts. Ford and Lexus accomplish that by downsizing the vehicles’ engines from six to four cylinders to maximize fuel economy, a strategy that resulted in strong value ratings.

"Hollow" hybrids, such as the 2009 Saturn Aura and the 2010 Chevy Malibu hybrids that offered little environmental benefits, are fading from the market, but those underperforming models are being replaced by "muscle" hybrids that emphasize power over fuel efficiency. The aforementioned Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid is just one example.

UCS also singles out the new Porsche Cayenne Hybrid and BMW’s X6 and 750i ActiveHybrids as among the worst-rated hybrids for environmental improvement.

As in previous Hybrid Scorecards, the cost of many hybrids are bloated by forced features, including premium sound systems, heated seats, and leather trim that inflate the cost without adding to fuel savings or reducing emissions. These additional features, which on average cost more than $2,500, mask the real value of hybrid technology and push cost-conscious hybrid buyers out of the market.

"If automakers are serious about selling hybrids and offering fuel efficiency at a fair price, they should ditch forced features," Anair says. The Lincoln MKZ, a luxury model, and the Hyundai Sonata, a non-luxury hybrid, are available with few or no forced features, he notes, and "there should be a lot more."

Here’s the scorecard:

Website: [sorry this link is no longer available]     
(Visited 3,294 times, 2 visits today)

Post Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *