January 19, 2007

The Hybridization of America

Hybrid cars for all Americans, Free! (Well, almost)

The Didik: Rejoice! Your Government's Car is Here to Help You Kill Global Warming. Varoooonk!

"That we may once again breathe the clean, clear, and downsized air of freedom." -- Jenna Bush, 46th President of the United States

I KNOW SATURATION POLLUTION first hand. I was born in Los Angeles in the smog of the late 40s. Electric cars were either long forgotten or not yet envisioned.LA was Smogville for Angeleans at that time. I can remember walking to school in smog so thick it seemed that my father would march in front of us with a machete. Black flakes of soot settled on the white enamel of my mother's stove as she cursed the black streaks in the collars of my father's starched white Hathaway shirts. The air, on the clear days, was best described as "ocher."

Now a haze still lingers over Los Angeles, but you need distance and elevation to make it out. There are days when the wind and weather collaborate that shine crisp and clear. Even though the automobile population of Los Angeles has quintupled since my childhood, a great deal of progress has been made in smog control and reduction. Compared to my childhood, the air of Los Angeles is now pure and pristine.

Alas, to Progressives, this progress is no progress; any improvement shy of perfection is no improvement at all. Automobiles remain. Pollution remains. Los Angeles remains. Curses, foiled again!
Worse still, the middle class remains. It grows larger, more affluent and greedy for the good life than ever. None of this is "A Good Thing." To Progressives, seeing Utopia forever just out of reach, and locked in the immortal dystopia of the now, only perfection persuades. Anything less is just not good enough. Ever.

"The Four Horseman are on cruise control among us.
They are driving Hummers."

Not. Good. Enough. Ever. For the Priests of Perpetual Perfection, it never will be. For the carping Friends of the Sierra Club's Earth and the jet-owning Hollywood Hypocrites, the situation remains drastic. Petroleum-Armageddon is always just one tank of gas away from destroying Earth. Every tank of gas bought and burned threatens life as we know it on every other mile of every road, urban, suburban, and rural, in these states. The Four Horseman are on cruise control among us. They are driving Hummers.

A savior is at hand, however, in the new hybrid vehicles popping up like dubious mushrooms in cities or in suburbs or wherever guilt and large clots of disposable income combine. According to our Prophets of Green, these marvels of the age burn mere teaspoons of gasoline before the sweet humm of their batteries kicks in. The hybrid, preferably a Toyota Prius, is the new hot sled to have when it would be just too embarrassing to take the SUV, the black Lincoln, or the Hummer to the Gulfstream. Having a hybrid hoovers out the guilt of going anywhere.

With only a nudge and a wink from the price of oil, these trumped-up group wheel-chairs are beginning to blot the landscape. As indeed they must, since our largest item of social semaphore is that all real and caring Americans must shell out twenty-five thousand dollars to prove their patriotism to the Planet. The message is that if only all Americans would "Tune in, turn on, and unplug," all would be bliss in our Peaceable Kingdom. We would enter, through gates of pearl, Hybrid America.

"A nation that puts caribou bliss ahead of its own wallets
is a nation of almost infinite disposable income..."

An even better benefit for Hybrid America would be the lessening of our dependence on foreign oil. This would, in turn, make the arctic tundra safe for the rutting of the caribou. A nation that puts caribou bliss ahead of its own wallets is a nation of almost infinite disposable income, gleaned, no doubt from all its savings on gasoline. A nation whose vehicles are firmly plugged into its sockets is a nation that knows where it parked.

The only problem with such savings is that they are slow to accrue. If you shell out $25,000 for a hybrid, you need to save that much in gasoline to break even -- assuming you don't finance it. Some wag calculated that, at most, you'd save $742 in gas per year. Hardly the interest on the car loan, what?

Even with gasoline at $5 a gallon, you have to run through 5,000 gallons to buy gas equal to the purchase price. Since your hybrid will easily get you 50 miles to the gallon, plan on driving a quarter of a million miles. But wait, its further than that. You have to calculate the gas you would have used on that same journey in your old car, the Hummer 2. At that rate, you're driving several round trips to the moon to save a buck. This would give even the most committed commuter pause. Pack a lunch.

"It is not enough that the hybrids come.
All other vehicles must go."

Another barrier, seldom mentioned in the Hybrid Utopia of America, is what to do with our existing rolling stock of automobiles, vans, trucks, motorcycles, scooters, ATVs, construction machines and riding lawn mowers. There are, perhaps, three such devices for every living American; say, about a billion units.

You see, it is not enough that the hybrids come. All other vehicles must go.

But go where and at what cost? That is, finally, the nub of the hybrid hub. You can't ever get really clean, squeaky clean, if you are not prepared to loofa between the grotty toes of your society. You can't get clean if you simply move the dirt around. No, you have to suds, rinse, and repeat if you are ever to get to that perfect state of constant blue -- where all the dogs wear diapers, and the flocks of the passenger pigeon once again blot out the sun.

We can no longer wait to "evolve" out of our present addiction to petrochemical byproducts. If we do we are in for decades of continuing carping and complaint from the likes of Mrs. Larry David preaching conservation from her private Gulfstream Jet. Sustained exposure to this sort of insidious insanity will not make for a relaxing decade. No, we must either shoot Mrs. Larry Davis out of the sky with a surface-to-air missile, or find a kinder and gentler way -- even if it is to the immense disappointment of Mr. Larry David.

" 'The Great Switcheroo' will be preceded
by 'The Even-Greater Tax Hike' "

Fortunately, since Providence smiles on the United States, a solution is at hand. It is "The Great Switcheroo."

The Great Switcheroo is a big solution. So big that it can only be accomplished by big government. But now that both parties have become dedicated to monstrous government, we won't have to wait for an election to get started. It will also take a government dedicated to butting-in to the private lives of its citizens in an unprecedented manner. This too will prove to be no speed bump at all. Those that currently hold positions of power at the local, state, or federal level are exactly those citizens who take a great, almost sexual, pleasure in butting-in to their neighbors' lives at every opportunity. (Indeed, it is a source of continuing disappointment in every American's life that whenever one feels a strange hand groping around one's buttocks, it is never an attractive stranger, but merely some large or small politician searching for one's wallet.) No, no new hires will be needed for "The Great Switcheroo." Having evolved a society that is incapable of letting individuals decide anything of importance for themselves, all the pieces are in place for the ultimate government meddle and muddle.

Like all brilliant and sweeping government programs, "The Great Switcheroo" will be preceded by "The Even-Greater Tax Hike" in which the incomes of all Americans from the age of six months and up will be taxed at a flat-rate not to exceed 87% of gross income -- no exceptions -- for a period of five years. This will be made politically acceptable through a brilliant stroke of marketing in which it will be termed not a "tax-hike" or even a "revenue enhancement," but an "investment in tomorrow's children." Under this rubric the extent to which IRS agents will have to be provided with tanks, automatic weapons, and body armor is expected to be minimal.

Once the concept of the "investment in tomorrow's children" is in place and revenues begin to roll into the ever swelling coffers, stage two of "The Great Switcheroo" can go forward. Advance orders will be placed by the Pentagon's OBC (Office of Blank Checks) with all the great automotive factories of the world. (Yes, even that one in the GUlag that nobody talks about.)

"We will discover that all our internal combustion vehicles
have been replaced with exact hybrid replicas."

In the grand tradition of the Pentagon competitive bidding will be announced and none will take place. In deference to the special needs of The Friends of the Sierra Club's Earth no orders will be placed for factories within the continental United States. To do so would of necessity contribute to polluting the American air, the very thing we are struggling to return to its natural, pristine state in which the only objectionable element was the flatulence of 150 million bison; a problem painstakingly solved with the Sharps rifle during the 19th century.

Instead of ordering American, all orders will go to countries such as Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Mexico; countries whose dedication to making things far exceeds their respect for the Holy Planet, and inhabited by people we care little about if they cannot whip up a good Moo-Shu pork, lay some sashimi on us, and weed our gardens. Once concentrated in these nations, our order will take five years worth of their entire industrial capacity to fulfill even if they work down to the wire on "Switcheroo Day."

Like the 24/7 Santa Claus that it has become, the Federal Government will accomplish the actual switcheroo during the cover of darkness while all our citizens sleep with visions of sugar plums dancing in their dreams. Accomplishing this will entail a passing state of martial law and the drafting of every repo man in history, but since it is, after all, an "investment in our children" who can complain over this temporary suspension civil liberties?

When we wake up on that shining morning, we will discover that all our internal combustion vehicles have been replaced with exact hybrid replicas that run on a combination of electrical power, sunshine, moonshine, and the flatulence of politicians, ecologists, and other bovines. In one swell foop, America will drive only electrosolarlunarmethane-powered vehicles. To simultaneously expand our parking options, all these vehicles will have been made to one quarter the scale of the vehicles they replaced. "The Great Switcheroo" will also prove to be, at one and the same time, "The Great Downsizing" of all American vehicles. Paradise personified, but wait... there's more.

"Confronted with cars, trucks, and scooters
a quarter of their previous size,
all Americans will be forced onto crash diets
if they wish to ride."

The health benefits of this gargantuan government program will extend well beyond the mere removal of all pollutants from our air. Confronted with cars, trucks, and scooters a quarter of their previous size, all Americans will be forced onto crash diets if they wish to ride. Thus the obesity issue solves itself without any need for government intervention. Plentiful exercise will also return to the country as a full-sized bicycle begins to look more appealing for errands under ten miles when compared to a ride in a Cadillac Escalade with a four-foot wheel base.

Social comity will increase -- especially in the summers and in our southern states. The impact of several hundred million electric vehicles on our national power grid will be such that air-conditioning your home will become the quaint memory of a faded past. Workers in the sealed corporate monads of this blighted era will make their buildings breathe again by throwing large items of furniture through the windows. They will have gained the strength to do this by climbing the 50 flights of stairs to their offices once the power for elevators has been shifted over to government plug-in stations. These will sprout on every street-corner as privately owned two hundred mile extensions cords are shown to be impractical when passing through intersections in large numbers.

"With the islands of Hawaii now far out of reach,
we'll all discover the hidden pleasures of body-surfing
a frog pond in Iowa."

And while the scope and mobility of American life will shrink overnight, neighborhoods will grow in amiability as soon as it is clear that a battery-powered Amtrack is no substitute for the now defunct air-transport system. An added benefit will be that adultery will be kept close to home and one's in-laws far away. With the islands of Hawaii now far out of reach, we'll all discover the hidden pleasures of body-surfing a frog pond in Iowa. Peace and serenity will prevail. No more will the throaty roar of a V-8 disturb us as it growls by late at night. Instead, nine hundred million whirring engines will lull us into our dreamless sleep in this brave new world, in the most pollution free portion of the planet, where all petroleum is now and forever passe.

The only lingering problem left for big government will be what to do with the nine hundred million or so gas-guzzling behemoths left over from "The Great Switcheroo." Clearly we cannot have these mountains of steel and plastic monsters cluttering up our fine new landscape. At that level of permanent parking we will have no room to ride our scooters. Faced with this dilemma, our ever-sharp and always efficient government will have to step in and appoint a Car Czar.

His job will be simple and to the point. He will arrange things so that we can immediately ship all our gas-burning antiques to the greatest used car lot in the world -- China. Using the immense fleet of super tankers which will at that stage be meaningless to our fuel needs, we shall move our many millions of pre-owned petroleum pollution pits to the fabled ports of far Cathay along with several battle-hardened armies of redundant American used car salesmen. Once landed we shall sell off our oppressive inventories to the one nation where everyone -- man, woman and child -- needs to drive a car. This gambit will not only balance our trade with China, but leave us with a large surplus which we can use for bicycles, walking shoes, and electric blankets for the new, freezing northeast winters.

In addition, the rapid build-up of American automobiles and other vehicles on the Chinese mainland, in conjunction with that nation's casual attitude towards pollution control, should quickly create such a toxic soup over all China's industrial areas that a vast die-off of its population is virtually assured. Once China is convinced by our irresistible armies of used-car salesmen, to buy our entire inventory of gasoline vehicles, the ultimate bankruptcy and strangulation of our one global competitor is assured. Once again, buying American will become the Earth's only option.

When that era dawns, all hybridized Americans can wake up confident that the coming century will be as it should be -- the pollution free American century. It is a future into which we all can proudly pedal.

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Posted by Vanderleun at January 19, 2007 5:58 PM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Ahhhhh..... like a large steak after a long fast. Glad you made it back.

Posted by: Rapier Witt at October 12, 2005 7:28 PM

Screw hybrids...they still burn gasoline...don't get stuck on stupid! If you really want to lower pollution, yet still drive as much as you want, do what I'm going to do...switch your car to run on propane.

Propane is cheaper than gasoline...you don't have to buy a new car, and it pollutes a hell of a lot less. Don't believe me? Check out a warehouse some time. They run forklifts indoors burning propane...they won't let you leave an idling Prius inside an occupied building.

Propane exhaust creates 60 to 70 percent less smog than the hydrocarbons in gasoline exhaust. Cuts emissions of toxins and carcinogens like benzene and toluene by up to 96 percent.
Offers a 20 to 25 percent reduction in emissions of greenhouse gas from light duty vehicles.
Reduction of particulate matter (PM10) of 40 percent 50 percent less of nitrous oxides (NOx)

You can go three times farther between oil changes and the oil will still be golden when you drain it...it burns that clean!

I've cobbled together the parts needed on-line, total less than $300.00.

And please don't tell me that propane is more dangerous then unleaded, when they start filling fire extinguishers with gasoline, I'll listen

Anyway, this what I'm doing.

Posted by: Mumblix Grumph at October 13, 2005 12:04 AM

My best wishes to you and yours and I hope your relocation is rewarding.

You points are well made and chilling. Chilling because the 'pointy-headed-oh-so-smarts' who seem to know what's best for the rest of us (the mulletted mouth breathers??) have an opportunity to worm their way into the national conciousness. The same way Marx, Lenin, and Hitler did in their time. Broad proclaimations based on evil fairy tales can become accepted fact; there is a straight line between "Everybody knows that the Jews aren't like us", and "If you don't conserve you don't care".

The move to socialism and tyranny, even while done with a smile and a caress and even when reinforced by comedians and entertainers, cannot be tolerated.

For the sake of the children.


Posted by: Dan Patterson at October 13, 2005 6:54 AM

Rather than go through all of that, wouldnt it just be easier to get a bicycle?

Posted by: akaky at October 13, 2005 6:55 AM

And when we all discover that hybrid cars aren't good enough, along will come...hydrogen.

Meanwhile, I cheer myself imagining akaky and 250,000 other commuters doing a 15-mile slog to work every August morning in San Antonio, the City Too Close to the Sun.

Posted by: Mike Anderson at October 13, 2005 8:36 AM

Welcome back to blogging, Gerard!

What a great satire. However, we won't even be allowed electric blankets--back to feather beds. Imagine the piles of goose manure that will result from raising the geese for the down.

Posted by: Bill at October 13, 2005 9:49 AM

You've been watching "Americathon" again, haven't you.

Posted by: Chris at October 13, 2005 3:06 PM

I bought my Honda Civic Hybrid (HCH) in 2003, when hybrids weren't cool. My dad and I were looking to buy replacement cars anyway, and I knew gas prices were only going to continue to go up, so being the cheap bastard I am, I bought my HCH as a commuter car. The last 1400 miles, I've averaged 48 MPG, but it has also changed the way I drive (I used to be a wild speed demon).

In San Diego, gas is routinely almost $3 a gal - so I don't feel so bad about dumping smaller amounts of money out my exhaust pipe when I could use the excess for better things like booze and ammo. I didn't get my hybrid to save the planet (but I love clean air). I think the Toyota Prius is fugly. I haven't had any problems with my car, and I go over 400 miles on a tank of gas. I think this kinda' makes up for my RV (8-9 MPG), which is painful to refill at the pump. I get the gas mileage of a big-engine motorcycle & I can carry a lot more, and with more comfort - but I still love riding motorcycles too.

I bought the car because I wanted to, not to make some kind of statement. Personally, I was quite intrigued watching a show on Brazil using ethanol for their cars, at 1/2 the price of gasoline. They were using a grow-able resource (sugar), but I don't think it burned as clean as propane, but it made more sense than sticking strictly to oil products. I wonder how propane would do in a hybrid? Propane is almost as much as gas in San Diego, so the ethanol idea is interesting (and much cheaper - more money for booze and ammo).


Posted by: Mike at October 13, 2005 5:48 PM

Bill ... feathers? Nope - H5N1.

So nice to see you back Gerard. Give the Fremont District a look.

Posted by: Steel Turman at October 14, 2005 3:57 AM

The thing the strikes me as funny about the eco-whackos is that they want the USA to clean up everything, but it seems to be OK that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, et. al. drill for oil. As if those countries are on a different planet. If you believe their rhetoric, it's a _planetary_ problem - yet they'd rather have OPEC drilling for oil than have the USA drill in Alaska and the Gulf. So long as everyone else does the dirty work - we Americans can all feel self-righteous and holier-than-thou toward the rest of the filthy Earth.

We don't really have a oil crisis, we have a crisis of self-loathing, and that is preventing us from solving the relatively minor oil problem.

I'm ready for Hydrogen. As soon as the Government mandates a hydro-station on every corner, I'll be there baby!

Posted by: RWilson at October 14, 2005 8:11 AM

You forgot one other point on the hybrids. I beleive they need their batteries replaced roughly every 3 - 4 years, @ around $2,500. Figure this in, and a high-mileage gas-only automobile might just be cheaper to run.

Posted by: MarkH at October 14, 2005 11:09 AM

I bought the extended warranty on my HCH which covers the batteries up to 80,000 miles or 6 years. The price of the extended warranty was almost $1k, but with the new technology, I figured it was probably worth it. I've also read of people buying after-market batteries and building their own replacement battery packs for a small fraction of the $2500 estimated replacement cost.

Since I drive over 20 miles each way to work and back, and I don't think gas will come back down significantly in cost, I'll keep driving my gas-sipping car, until they come up with something better. I don't like throwing my money at oil companies.

I wish US car manufacturers would get their asses in gear instead of always bringing up the rear in both quality and innovation.

Posted by: Mike at October 14, 2005 1:32 PM

Good for you, Mike. I'm glad you found a way to wrestle the price of the batteries down. I ride my motorcycle almost every day, but at about 42 mpg it still isn't that inexpensive. The hybrids are startig to look more attractive. I could drive, get better mileage and listen to the radio...

Posted by: MarkH at October 14, 2005 8:53 PM

There is no cheaper or more expensive fuel.Always you pay for energy.Hydrogen-do not even think about.
Its production is more expensive than silver.
Hybrid after all is expensive as hell.
Solution:japanese moped/50ccm->bike->bycikel->mobility per pedes.
We still have in slate and sands more gasolin, after industrial this and that with heavy oil,than Arabs as a gift from Allah.Their production goes down.
Before we learn how get oil from slate and sands[15-20 years ?]we have still unopened sources.Sea,Alaska.Partly fission.Partly.That energy is too expensive.

Posted by: Al.Dr. at October 14, 2005 9:30 PM

If you wait until you were going to buy a new car anyway, then you're not looking at recouping the entire $25,000 price of a new car with your gas savings, you're only looking at recouping the price difference between a hybrid and a regular. Anyone know how much more a hybrid costs than a corresponding regular car?

I think the hybrid still comes out more expensive unless you keep your car for a decade or so, but I'm pretty sure the numbers are a little bit closer than your article makes them out to be.

Still, very funny article. :-)

Posted by: Robin Munn at October 14, 2005 9:54 PM

To move battle hardened of redundant American, used car salesmen(sic)could be biiig problem after two years.Supply.

Posted by: Al.Dr. at October 14, 2005 9:59 PM

Mike (5:48):

Sounds like you bought your hybrid for all the right reasons.

(Especially the booze & ammo part. :)

Posted by: rickl at October 15, 2005 1:47 AM

Somewhere someone in America is saying, Yeah! That's a GREAT idea! Love your work...welcome back.

Posted by: Scott at October 15, 2005 6:45 AM

Yes, akaky, a bicycle would be easy to get. The knee replacement surgery is the difficult part.

Posted by: triticale at October 16, 2005 6:41 AM

Interesting discussion of hybrids, but I'd like to dodge back to a more general point Gerard makes:

Alas, to Progressives, this progress is no progress; any improvement shy of perfection is no improvement at all.

It took me a while to catch on to this bait-and-switch, but this is the classic Progressive maneuver. Whatever the US is doing is not compared with what other countries are doing or what has been done historically. No, the US is always compared with some Utopian ideal that would arrive if only the US would disappear or gracefully lay down, die, and let Progressives run the show as they deserve to since they are obviously so much more intelligent and moral.

It's why the miracle yesterday in Iraq is being dismissed as Sunnis still not satisfied and Iraqi voters not as enthusiastic as last time.

Never mind that more Iraqis voted this time than last time, that the violence was about 100 times less, that it was their constitution that they created and that Iraq is still on track to becoming a functioning democracy despite large odds and the endless carping from progressives that they would never get this far and some who still claim that the Iraqis were better off under Hussein.

Posted by: hg wells at October 16, 2005 9:05 PM

As I recall I reckon I heered tell some years back that some Americans don’t cotton to trucks, but heck I always figgered that was jus’ Yankytalk & I don’t pay such palaver no heed nohow. Or I figgered mayhaps it was some a’them kinky folks I heered about from cousin Betty Lou out near Houston that drive them weird highbred vehicles. There’s just no accountin’ fer the types of vehicle some funny kinda folk will take up with, now is there?

Van der Leun, no real American would ever disparage the finest vehicle type ever thunk up by Detroit – the Ford F150 pickup truck. I remember well that morning in ’92 after I drove her home from the dealership(she was a bit skittish on the turns, but that’s to be expected of any new bride … er … vehicle). I tiptoed out my front door ‘round about 6:49am & there she was, sleeping so peaceful-like in the driveway. I just stood there awhile, drinkin’ her in: her clean lines, her shiny chrome bumpers, the cute little side vents on her windows & a tailgate that would make a grown man cry. Then all’a sudden the morning sun peeped through that ol’ mesquite thicket over toward the east. Those golden rays bounced off that Cherry Red paint job & into my old eyes & I tell you Van der Leun, it was a dazzling sight to behold – I almost fainted onto my fresh-mowed crabgrass. So don’t be tryin’ to separate me from little Roxy, boy, she might guzzle a little gas but a finer, sweeter vehicle has not been had by man.

If I wurn’t havin’ a new clutch put in little Roxy by Dr. Tino Garcia down at the Expressway Auto Service & Pickup Clinic & therefore reeduced to(Lord help me) walkin’, I would saddle up little Roxy & ride up there to Yankyland, even up yonder past Dallas, & hog-tie yew to a fencepost! Cousin Daisy Pearl told me all about yew Yankys & yer weird talk that time behind tha barn, before Paw caught us. But don’t yew wurry, pretty soon little Roxy will be good as new & then yewl be in the ol’ cactus patch without a bandaid if yew keep it up.

Seriously, a fine post & welcome back.

Posted by: john moulder at October 17, 2005 12:06 PM

You argue that one must earn back the purchase price in gasoline savings to justify a hybrid. But don't forget that non-hybrids aren't free. Your argument could perhaps be applied to the difference in price between a Prius and a similar non-hybrid Toyota. Since that difference is probably a few thousand dollars, the $700/year savings doesn't look quite so bad. And the price difference will narrow and vanish and more hybrids are produced, manufacturing is streamlined, and supply catches up with demand.

As you point out, though, people aren't buying them only to save money.

The other point about "what do we do with all the existing cars?" is equally flimsy: a car lasts an average of maybe 15 years. If nothing but hybrids were sold from this day forward, in 10 years the majority of cars would be hybrids and our gas consumption would be down 25% or more.

Posted by: Denny at October 19, 2005 9:40 AM


Don't count on gas consumption being down 25% or more. The sad fact is the auto companies (at least the US ones) are putting hybrids in to create more power, not to save gas. sure, there are some gas savings, but not to the degree if they used the electric assist to match the HP, dropping the gasoline engine capacity so it substantially saves gas instead of just window dressing to create more power and make people THINK they're doing something good by buying a hybrid.

I love muscle cars and lots of raw power, but once I'm on the freeway commuting, I don't need all the extra HP unless I'm towing something. They need to make more and better commuter cars where the most gas savings are to be had, and save the powerhouses for those who need them or don't mind paying to play. Most of us don't need all that power to drive to work and back, so to make the gas saving cars more feasible, they need to come down in price too - otherwise people aren't going to buy enough of them to make a dent until gas gets much more expensive. And the stinking insurance companies are also making a mess of things by charging so much to insure these new cars even though most of them are just commuter cars. They're charging rates like they're hot rods or something. Jerks.

Posted by: Mike at October 20, 2005 3:34 PM

I played sports in High School in the late 50 ties, and all I remember was that it burned when you breathed after a workout. Of course that was in Santa Monica, so I guess I had the benefit of proximity to the coast. There has been improvement, but I'm not sure it justifys adding MBTE to gasoline, or having 40 different blends of gasoline all over the country. Government only does two things well, and this obviously was one of them: overreact! Regards Keith

Posted by: Keith at October 20, 2005 10:31 PM

The truth is actually worse than you put it. In the realm of most efficient vehicles, hybrids don't make much sense, with today's technology.

Consider the efficient, compact normal IC car. Such a car has a low vehicle weight, to reduce the amount of power needed to move the car, with a small, efficient engine. Even though a car's engine spends most of its time putting out a small amount of power to keep a car going at a particular speed, it still needs enough power to get up to speed in a reasonable time, and to get up hills. This tends to limit the minimum size of the engine you can put in a car (depending on the preferences of the market with regard to "reasonable" acceleration and max. speed, of course), which affects the efficiency of the vehicle.

Now consider the ultra-efficient, compact hybrid car. The idea is that you can rely on a more efficient engine because you can use an engine as a generator, which doesn't have to span such a wide range of operating conditions. Also, in the case of parallel hybrid drives, you can use an engine which is smaller (and also more efficient) than you could with the engine alone, since you have the assistance of battery power and electric motor. However, none of this assistance comes free. You may shave weight from the engine, but you also have to add weight in the form of batteries and electric motor. Despite advances in battery technology, our batteries are still very inefficient and heavy. Usually, in the smallest vehicles, this weight balance doesn't add up, the weight you add with motor and batteries is vastly more than the weight you remove by using a smaller engine. That leaves the body. Using lightweight materials (e.g. fiberglass, plastics, aluminum alloys, etc.) you can shave a lot of extra weight off the body. If you're lucky, you end up with a vehicle that weighs about the same as an ordinary compact car. All this weight reduction and hybrid technology comes at a cost though. And not just in dollars. Batteries, electric motors, and lightweight materials don't grow on trees, they need to be manufactured. And that manufacturing, especially in the case of batteries and aluminum alloys, comes at an environmental cost. There is pollution and environmental cost associated with the manufacture of any vehicle. Interestingly, this figure is typically higher for hybrids than for equivalent ordinary IC compact cars. Thus, hybrids come with an environmental debt up front that can only be paid back after extensive use.

And the really ironic fact is that compact hybrids don't have very impressive fuel efficiencies. Because of the added weight and the still lack luster battery technology hybrids only offer marginal efficiency improvements over compact cars in the same weight class. Often, depending on driving conditions, they can be less efficient than lighter compact cars (e.g. Geo Metro vs. Prius).

There are two reasons behind this. One is that we have really come a long way in internal combustion engine design, and can make some very impressively efficient engines even without hybrid technology. The other is, as mentioned above, battery and motor technology isn't at a state sufficiently advanced to allow their addition to light frame vehicles without significantly affecting the curb weight.

What this means is that to get the maximum benefit from today's hybrid technology, it is better to use it in the heaviest, least efficient vehicles than to try to cram it into the smallest compact cars. This is because the addition of batteries and motors to larger cars doesn't make as much percentage difference to the curb weight, and yet can have fairly dramatic (e.g. 50-100% vs. 10-20%) effects on fuel efficiency. Indeed, that has been the trajectory that hybrids have taken over time. They have become standard on locomotives and very large industrial vehicles (e.g. dump trucks, mining vehicles, etc.) for decades, and have started making inroads in big-rig trucks. In terms of passenger vehicles, the logical place for hybrids is in SUVs, vans, and super duty trucks. And manufacturers are starting to see the advantages there and have plans for such vehicles in the near future.

Though, in terms of maximum fuel efficiency, your best bets aren't hybrids, yet, but rather common IC compact cars, pure electric vehicles, car pooling, or walking / biking (although keep in mind that bikes have a "pollution debt" due to manufacture as well, so to pay off that debt you have to ride a fair distance over the life of the bicycle).

Posted by: Robin Goodfellow at October 26, 2005 12:58 PM

I heard about this advertising scheme on a another blog, that gives away free computers. It sounded like a scam, but after I googled it, it was legitmiate. You have to sign up for an offer from one the sponser companies. I did the free credit report one and canceled before the free trial time was up. That was it! I just recieved my new mini computer and it didn't cost me a thing! Here's the link if you're on as tight of a budget as I am.


Posted by: Jim at October 26, 2005 6:51 PM

Jim--I heard about spambots like you on a another blog, one that says there's no free lunch. It sounded like a scam, and guess what, it was! You have to sign up for an offer from one of the sponser companies and then they make your life miserable with more spam. They use the word "free" a lot, as in "free credit report" and "free trial time." That's it! Oh, and they also use the exclamation point very freely, too, as in "I just recieved my new mini computer and it didn't cost me a thing!" And then they close with something personal, to make you think you are dealing with a real live person just like yourself, such as "Here's the link if you're on as tight of a budget as I am."

Buh-bye, Jim!

Posted by: neo-neocon at October 28, 2005 5:19 PM

Propane? At least it's not butane. That's a bastard-gas.

Posted by: Stephen B at January 19, 2007 3:56 PM

Yup, Robin Goodfellow, what he said.

Posted by: Dennis at January 20, 2007 1:29 PM

Wow! A coffin on wheels. Well, half a coffin anyway.
I can see it now:
The car was totalled and everyone killed, when the car was demolished by a raccoon, crossing the road.

Posted by: Ben USN (Ret) at January 21, 2007 11:49 PM

Ben, I think you are on to something. There could be a new game for possums, "roll the rollerskate." They push the car over at rural stop signs then scurry off with the junk food that spills out.

Or the larger and more aggressive crows could lift them in their claws and drop them on the windshields of real cars.

People will have to own those rat-sized dog substitutes instead of real dogs, and grocery shopping will have to be done four times a day due to the cargo space being the size of a frozen tv dinner. The paperless office will be a necessity, briefcases being too big by far to fit in the car.

And the redneck joke about the wife weighing more than the pickup truck can be modernized to the meth head girlfriend who actually fit in the car for an entire week before her death from anorexia related heart failure.

It could get really ugly.

Posted by: askmom at January 22, 2007 9:23 PM

Excellent post, Gerard. As usual.

Good to see you back blogging.

Posted by: physics geek at January 23, 2007 10:20 AM

The rain and cold puts me off riding my bicycle 9 out of 10 days in the UK Winter. On strong wind days, cycling is impractical. It is also not fair to motorists to struggle slowly against the wind through flow-intersect situations. Here in Poole Bay towns, 65+ people (like me) now get free bus travel after 09h00. But ought I to feel guilty about encouraging deisel-engined-bus pollution? The solution is as it has always been: the much reviled 1920s-1930s ribbon-development for which the non-pejorative name is 'linear city'. You can have a constant slow flow of electric rail cars/carriages along the city spine for short distance travel, and a speedy version on a second level for larger/longer hops. Each street is a 5-minute-maximum walk. You have green fields at the street end. But it does mean giving planners perhaps-overweening powers to dis-assemble traditional cities and turn every road or lane into a part of the linear city net. Natural selection has ruled for 3 and a half billion years. Maybe we should welcome the motorisation of the Earth population and not interfere. If homo sapiens dies out, or survives, or adapts, or whatever, it will be most interesting to observe. Leave it free, leave it free, leave it free, leave it free, there will be an answer leave it free, leave it free... Cy Quick at mydigest.wordpress.com

Posted by: Ct Quick at January 25, 2007 2:18 AM

"The Didik Long Ranger is constructed of welded aluminum tubing and is built to aircraft standards."

My flying buddies tell me that "aircraft standards" means making every part as flimsy as possible: "Throw it at the ceiling. If it sticks it's light enough."

I wouldn't get in one of those things unless I had a death wish.

Posted by: pst314 at January 27, 2007 2:58 PM

I debated getting a Hybrid for a few minutes, but no, I'm getting my Mustang, sorry. (And investing the rest of my combat pay in Oil, big and small.)

Posted by: Recon Miller at January 28, 2007 4:09 PM

I remember the thick, gooey air of Gary, IN when I was a child. Driving through it for the first time, I wondered if it was what the atmosphere looked like on Mars. Yes, the environment is much cleaner than it was in the 60's, so I'm going to continue driving my SUV and not recycling my garbage. Paying homage to carefully cleaned garbage and then piling on your curb once a week is really a treat for the racoons and dogs that scatter it everywhere creating - not preventing - pollution.

Posted by: Mary B. at January 29, 2007 8:27 PM

End to end, hybrids consume more energy than Hummers.


Hydrogen is a net energy loser.

Posted by: Duffy at January 30, 2007 10:41 AM
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