Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Are Hybrids the answer? Not alone and not for everyone

I've been reading a lot of blogs today and the fur seems to be flying in every direction concerning Hybrid vehicles, and I'm as guilty as anyone, with my latest post telling Ford to produce more Hybrids. Many people mistakenly think of Hybrids as the solution to our energy needs, and the simple truth is they aren't, not for everyone at least. Don't get me wrong, they're great for a portion of the driving public that would include me. The truth about Hybrids are that they only really make sense for people that do an urban or even suburban driving circuit. For people that commute long distances there is absolutely no relief. The same goes for Electric cars like the now defunct Ford Think, pictured above. Electric cars do not work in the US almost at all. The range of them is limited and the size of them makes them unsafe compared to the average car.
Nobody wants to drive a golf cart with a roof on the highway, where you can be knocked on your side by the tail wind of a passing tractor trailer.
Gasoline/Electric Hybrids solve several problems of the Electric cars, but not all. The range is basically unlimited, because you have a gas engine that takes over and most Hybrids use braking to recharge the batteries. But Hybrids achieve their best milage on a "city" driving loop and on the highway perform much like their gasoline counterparts. As an example the Ford Escape achieves 34 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. So for commuters traveling into cities from far flung suburban communities, they really have a limited benefit.

My personal driving routine would be a perfect fit for a Hybrid, as I drive about 5 miles to work each way and most of driving is done in stop and go traffic, with the ocasional trip on the highway. But many people I know drive 40-50 miles each way on the highway, where the Hybrid has no advantage.

The answers to our problem are manifold, a combination of Hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles, as well as more efficient gasoline and Diesel vehicles. Ford's partner Mazda is rolling out the MazdaSpeed6 with it's 2.3 L Direct Injection Turbo I-4, making over 270 hp and still achieving decent milage. Many pundits have said, and I agree that the future of the automobile as we know it is going to involve many smaller displacement motors with this type of technology.

I remember in the 80's many auto makers were wild about Turbos, Chrysler put a turbo in almost everything they sold, including the mini vans. Ford jumped on the wagon too, with the Superb Mustang SVO and the almost ran Turob GT Mustangs, as well as turbo Escort, EXP, Merkur and Thunderbird. GM's Buick division seemed the champion of turbo technology across their model line up as well. Mitsubishi had big hits with their Turbo Codria/Tredia and Starion models long before the Evo came to these shores. Turbos were nothing new, GM had them in early Corvairs and many Diesels had turbos for years. But in the 80's the mantra was V-8 power with 4 cyl milage. And it was a turbo boon for a while. Then people experienced turbo failures. Turbos are great, but early turbos were prone to failure because of lubrication and heat related problems. So turbos fell out of fashion. Only showing up on high end sporty cars and the Chevy Sprint ( Don't ask me why.)

Turbo technology as well as fuel injection and engine management have come a long way. I'm not saying that's the solution either. I think that all of them are the answer. Some Bio Fuel Diesel vehicles, some Electric and Hybrid, and a redesign of the current powertrains to include technology to increase fuel economy while not loosing performance. We can have our cake and eat it too.

Ford is poised to take bold steps if they dare, and lead the American Auto Industry into the future, as they are the only domestic manufacturer with viable Hybrids right now and with the Direct Injection Turbo in the toolbox, things could be looking better. That is if they can survive long enough to implement these technologies.

But what the hell do I know?


Dotty Gale said...

I want a Smart

Big Ford Fan said...

Dotty Gale, you have too many cars as it is and besides, you'd end up with your Smart on it's side at the side of the road on 495.

You should look for repeat episodes of Fifth Gear on Speed channel, there's one where they go on a rally with Smart drivers. Very funny, especially the Cross Blade version.

Dotty Gale said...

I want a Smart with 300 Horsepower!

I don't care if I tip it over on the LIE. I'll pick it back up and keep on going :)

Dotty Gale said...

I just visited the website. They have a roadster now!!

Boogity Boogity Boogity!!

Bill said...

actually, my car is an "Insight"
which is a really strange looking
2-seater hybrid by Honda. I think it was one of the first models offered. I got mine in January 2001 (it was a 2000 year model and they couldn't get rid of it) the technology in the Insight is very different from the more well know Toyota hybrids. I commute about 35 miles each way and I find that the Insight, unlike the Prius, has a more typical mileage profile of about 40 in town and 53 on the highway. Once I set the trip milage counter and drove from Wilmington Delaware to Baltimore MD.
It was a Sunday morning with no traffic and I drove at exactly the speed limit the whole way and I got 70 MPG on that trip. Of course I don't get that kind of mileage in ruch hour traffic with the speeding up and slowing down and changing lanes etc, etc.

Big Ford Fan said...

Bill, welcome to MyFordDreams, thanks for the input. I'm familiar with the Insight and remember when it came out. There's one parked a few blocks from where I live and I see it all the time. Yes it was the first Hybrid offered and showed promise. I wonder how it differs from the current Honda hybrid models in it's system.

I know the biggest stumbling block was utility. Not much cargo or people space. I'd love to hear more about it. How is it from day to day?

Bill said...

I've been very happy with the Insight on a daily basis for the past 5 years. It's not for everyone, but its just right for me. The space in the back may seem small compared to other cars but its bigger than it looks from the outside. I don't have a family to cart around and even if I did I think I'd still want to have this Insight a 'my car' and have something like a minivan as the 'family car'. I enjoy the experience of driving a 2-seater with a gearshift, would you call the Insight a "roadster"? or does the hybrid technology disqualify it? Thing is, I just like odd looking cars. VW beetles, Ford Festivas (that thing got 42mpg easy), Their kinda homely looking but I found them unique and interesting to drive. All my past cars, with the acception of the AMC Matador, were straight-stick. The Insight's got a straight-stick 5-speed and I can really wind-out 3rd gear without straining the engine. I wrote a little post on my blog called "Hybrid Confussion".
Its really nothing more than a reference to a posting about the 2 different kinds of Hybrids, written by Andrew Grant - "The Worlds First Prius Taxi Operator". You can follow my link to his blog and read all about it.

kenny said...

The 87-88 Chevy Sprint turbo is a tough and quick car. I have one that has 180k, gets over 40 MPG, and emissions like that of a 07' Prius. No plans to ever sell it. Should go another 200k at a minimum. Tight handling, tires are only $15020 each, and the only thing I have done to it is replace the rotors ($13 each), new turbo at 128k ($700, new), a reman distributor at around turbo time ($160), and the usual tune ups, brakes, and shocks.