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Has BS jumped the shark?
2008-05-29

I'm a pretty big fan of Penn &s; Teller's Bullshit on Showtime. I don't always agree with them, sometimes they even change my mind. Sometimes, I think they're rather dickish to those representing the opposite viewpoint... ok, often, that's kind of the point. Sometimes, they seem to go too far. I'm just making my way through season 5... and the episode Nukes, Hybrids &s; Lesbians... it didn't even seem like they were trying. The "lesbians" angle was just silly and pointless. The nukes part.. sure, nuclear power has been given the shaft in the US... but the hybrids segment? Ugh.

Current hybrid cars are amoung the most fuel efficient cars available, but a good diesel can generally do as well or better. They do cost more to make, and they often won't make back that cost in fuel savings. They involve more parts, and some eco-challenged materials like batteries. The batteries themselves are expensive and need to be replaced more often than similarly priced parts of the car. All of these are good reasons to think that hybrids are not the answer to the oil supply and global warming problems.

Instead, we get a Prius raced against a Corvette in the 0-60, and a packing challenge which makes it "clear" that a Prius can't handle a family of four for a driving vacation. A Prius is a compact car. Comparing its acceleration against other compact cars would be more reasonable. A Toyota Matrix, which is somewhat similar in size, has a 0-60 time of 9.5s, which is a full second faster than the Prius... but that's only about 10% faster. It only gets 26/32 MPG though, compares to the Prius 48/45 MPG. 80% better fuel economy for a 10% hit. I saw a review of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid where they actually "drag raced" against the non-hybrid version, and they both had almost identical times. This review shows the Toyota Camry hybrid with a 0-60 time of 8.6s, better than the 4 cylinder Camry (10.3s), slower than the V-6 Camry XLE (6.5s). Still, in an acceptable range.

As for the family of four vacation... its a compact car. In the US, a family of four has two cars: if they need to fit for vacation, it'd probably be the other one. Or they could rent something bigger. The chart here shows an average annual hybrid gas savings in the $500-$600 range, which would pay for a $75 rental for a week. Of course, then you won't make up the extra cost of the hybrid.

They do cost more, of course. Edmunds has an article on how long it takes the extra cost of a hybrid to break even. For a hybrid Toyota Camry (my personal choice if I was in the market for a sedan), its only 1.6 years at 15k miles per year (that's probably a little higher than average, so maybe 2 years). For other cars... 7, 12, 16 or even 69 years. Granted, the 69 year Lexus LS sedan is one of the "performance" hybrids, the point of the hybrid is better performance, not fuel efficiency.

So, unless you're an early adopter, or buying one of the cars at the top of the list, you're probably better off choosing a better mileage non-hybrid, smaller cars/suvs like the Civic, Golf, or even Rav-4.


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