While to many it may seem obvious that hybrids make less of an impact on the environment than other automobiles, it is actually far less clear cut. While hybrids might have better fuel economy, they prove to be more expensive to produce and more damaging to the environment to manufacture. What do you get for all this effort? Some hybrids can get drastically better gas mileage than their gasoline equivalent, but many (such as SUVs) get equivalent or even worse mileage (carseek.com).
For example, take the production of the most famous hybrid vehicle, the Toyota Prius. The Prius uses a battery which contains nickel. The nickel for these batteries is mined in Ontario, Canada (from a mine nicknamed “The Super Stack” due to its pollution output). After the nickel has been mined it travels (via massive container ships) to Europe for refinement, then to China to be made into a “nickel foam”, then to Japan to be assembled as part of the battery. After all this shipping, the car is then sent (again, via container ship) to the United States for sale. All told, the estimated expenditure of energy to produce a Prius is 113,000,000 BTUs, the equivalent of 1,000 gallons of gasoline (wired.com). If you think of this as a gasoline debt, then you must drive your Prius for 46,000 miles before you’re even.
What’s a simple way to help save the environment? Buy a used car. The damage of producing the car has already been made, and often times many used cars have MPG ratings at or near some of the more fuel-efficient hybrids. The frequently ridiculed Geo Metro XFI is rated by the EPA at 46 miles per gallon, the same as the Toyota Prius, and can often be found for a fraction of the cost. A plethora of these cars exist – such as the Ford Festiva, Dodge Colt, and Mazda Protégé – and you’ll save the planet from the damage of producing another car.
Hybrids are touted by many as being a major step in saving the environment, and they certainly are a step in the right direction, but we’re not there yet. If you choose to ignore the damage on the environment and energy costs of production, the hybrid vehicle seems superior. However, upon closer investigation, the perceived benefit of a hybrid vehicle doesn’t withstand the scrutiny of empirical evidence.