Sunday, July 17, 2005

Hybrid vs. Hybrid and how the Times gets it wrong

There are hybrid cars and then there are hybrid cars, and mine gets 44 mph on average, but not with a Times reporter in it.
July 17, 2005

Comparing apples and tomatoes and only some of them are green—
Mathew Wald, an excellent reporter at the New York Times, has a story on hybrid cars on the front page this morning. [Click on link] It’s wrong. Wald writes that the new hybrid cars improve performance but don’t save gasoline. It depends on the car; Wald got the technology wrong.

Wald writes that the new Honda hybrids improve performance, especially acceleration, but save little on gasoline. He implies that is a trend, and that the tax saving on using hybrid cars is not doing fuel economy any good. The problem is that there are two separate technologies involved, only one of them is pure hybrid. It isn’t Honda’s.

Honda “hybrids” are not pure hybrids. They take a standard Civic or Accord, add a battery and an electric motor which supplements the gas engine. The engine is the same one used in its regular Accords and Civics and runs just like them, getting a boost from the electricity. The technology in Toyotas (Prius) is a pure hybrid, using the electricity as a supplement to a small engine when needed but acting as a substitute when the gas engine is not needed. Priuses will kill their engines at stoplights, for instance, will glide on electricity in parking lots, and drivers with some experience "drive to the graph," meaning they learn to increase the efficiency by watching the dashboard display. It’s called “stealth mode” because it is silent. Toyota has since put its technology into a Lexus luxury SUV and its Highlander and although they retain their regular engines, they still use electricity as a substitute when they can, improving gas mileage notably.

Wald apparently thinks they are all the same. Not so. To see how the Prius works, go below here.

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