The automotive world is changing: fossil fuels, distributors, pistons and conventional gearboxes are on their way out, to be replaced by capacitors, batteries, zero-shift drives and volts – we already know that fossil fuelled vehicles will be banned in the UK by 2040.
Many large cities are introducing penalties for polluting and manufacturers have finally started weaning themselves from the internal combustion engine. Indeed, Volvo have said that by 2019, they won’t be producing anything other than hybrid or full-electric vehicles.
But are hybrids really as smart as we’ve been told? Are they the motoring equivalent of the second coming? Or just a cheap (for the manufacturers) marketing ploy to get people to spend further amounts of money in a bid to ‘go green’?
A lot of information can be gleaned from the following two numbers: 72.4 mpg and 94.2 mpg.
These two figures represent the tested mileage figures for the Toyota Prius (the planet’s saviour if you believe the hype) and the Peugeot 208 BlueHDi, the dirty diesel, and yes, those figures are the correct way.
Whilst mentioning those figures without giving further explanation is a relatively easy trick, you really need to dig a little deeper before drawing any real-world conclusions – the Peugeot is diesel engined, which means that the emissions coming from its exhaust are more harmful to the environment.
But even then, that only tells half the story – what about all of the un-recyclable bits to do with the hybrid, or the ever more harmful manufacturing processes? It isn’t just black and white (is anything?).
Real costs of driving hybrid cars
There is no doubt that hybrids are generally better for the environment, especially when compared to cars that are slightly older. Hybrids are capable of consistently achieving relatively high economy figures compared to their regular counterparts, but it does come at a financial cost – hybrids are ultimately more expensive to buy, so if your goal is saving money, you need to put in some serious mileage for them to pay off.
If, however, you’re wanting a hybrid for the ‘green’ factor, then it could work for you, assuming that you ignore the aforementioned problems with manufacturing and recyclability, and that’s on the assumption that you’d be ordering a brand new car anyway.
There are a number of different types of hybrid, some that plug-in to your electricity supply, others that recharge from the internal combustion engine, and configurations also come in a variety – single motors, dual motors, motors that drive one complete axle or an individual wheel.
You can even get high-performance hybrids like the McLaren P1 or Porsche 918, but whereas the average hybrid utilises an electric motor to help emissions, the performance versions use that motor to boost the power output.
Plug-ins come with their own range of drawbacks – you’ll need access to a power socket to charge it, so if your parking arrangements can’t cover that, a plug-in may not be for you. This isn’t to say that a hybrid itself isn’t for you, just consider what use you’ll get from it and how the logistics work for you first.
Given that the cost of a hybrid is ultimately more expensive, buying one to save money would be a long-term investment; the difference in fuel economy isn’t enough to pay for itself in the short term.
We’ve already looked at an example of the Peugeot 208 being able to beat the consumption figures of the best known hybrid by over 20 mpg and that’s a significant saving, even more so when you compare the purchase price – just under £18,000 for the little Pug opposed to just over £24,000 for the Toyota. £6,000 buys a lot of fuel (around 5,200 litres at today’s price, or to put it another way – well over 100,000 miles!).
Modern auto world
Of course, hybrids do have their place in the modern world, and as wider adoption happens, development should see relative prices come down, but until we’re forced to have hybrid or electric only vehicles, it’s doubtful that they’ll be the most popular choice.
Taking the green option, a hybrid does make perfect sense, but for the average Joe motorist, it’s hard to justify that added expense unless you spend much of your time driving in cities that charge you for polluting their road networks and air, but even then, thought must be given as to how it will work for you, and whether you’re able to maximise the advantages of a hybrid.
As fossil fuels become predictably more expensive (both financially and in cost to the planet), the automotive industry as a whole are beginning to look to the future. No longer are they allowed carte blanche to do as they want, to force us down one particular route that suits them best - they are being made to understand the implications of blindly sticking with one power source (the internal combustion engine) and it’s working. For everyone.