By on September 26, 2007

prius.jpgPrius/hybrid bashers have a new angle of attack, thanks to Cardiff University and UK automotive consultancy Clifford Thames (who currently features Toyota's logo on its website). The Financial Times reports that the dynamic duo studied a range of vehicles and concluded that many conventional petrol or diesel engined machines (e.g. the Mini Cooper D diesel hatchback and Fiat Panda) are "greener" than the gas – electric Prius. How's that then? "The Cardiff/Clifford Thames ranking gave CO2, nitrogen oxide and other emissions a 50 per cent weighting in assessing cars’ overall environmental friendliness. For the other 50 per cent, it ranked vehicles on their construction, energy and end-of-life costs, based on their length, width and weight." We'd like to see a  bit more detail on that formula. Meanwhile the study's author was aware that their results were a bit, um, skewed. “We’re not saying that any car that is the same size as the Prius is better," Clifford Thames’ Richard Barber admitted. "but the gap is closing very rapidly, and conventional technologies will pass the Prius." In fact, “Conventional technology will overtake the Prius over the next 12 to 18 months, and consumers won’t have to pay a premium for it,” said David Riemenschneider, Clifford Thames’ chief executive. Let the eco-games begin! Oh wait; they already have.

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32 Comments on “New Study Disses Prius...”


  • avatar
    tulsa_97sr5

    I could be wrong, but I believe the new prius will also pass the current prius in the next 12-18 months.

  • avatar
    kansei

    tulsa, that’s a good point –they are comparing a platform that isn’t aging well to some pretty new cars.

    The end-of-life is what stops me from ever owning a hybrid. Yay, lots of toxic batteries for a landfill, plus just as much normal engine stuff as the next car.

    I’m reminded of the company that sold solar cells that replaced the roof panel of the Prius. They cost thousands (which you wouldn’t recoup in the next 20 years from the energy savings) and well –production of the cells is a very environmentally destructive process.

  • avatar
    glenn126

    So these welsh egg-heads “penalized” the Prius for having a family sized interior and luggage area in comparison to a Mini diesel, which put the Mini ahead of the Prius in their ranking…

    No worries, no prejudice there for the (in reality German owned) “home team”.

    Ridiculous.

    kansei, you have no worries. Try a Prius – buy one and run it and see what you think. How about 250,000 miles on the original (traction) battery? Is that “life-time” enough for you? Prius taxis are running that in a year or two up in Canada.

    The battery “excuse” is long ago debunked. Prius (and other hybrid) batteries are marked for recycling with a bounty of $250-300 on them – and since salvage yards generally all make a profit (compared to the 2.8 Detroit Auto Incs. which – don’t) I’d say that salvage yard owners are smart enough to recycle the traction batteries in hybrids.

    If you want poisonous batteries, look at the millions and millions of gallons of hydrochloric acid in huge SUV and truck 12-volt batteries before you diss the Prius and other hybrid batteries….

    Now, in comparison to these non-automotive “too bright for their own good” twits in Cardiff, I have (at home) a 2005 British car magazine, What Car, which tested fuel-saving vehicles – “What’s best – hybrid, petrol or diesel?” and the winner of their comparison test? The 2005 Prius. Against the Smart for two DIESEL, a Toyota Corolla diesel (which did come in 2nd or 3rd place, I think), a VW Golf with direct gasoline injection, a small Citroen with gas engine and engine stop/start, and a Ford Focus petrol car (dead last).

  • avatar
    chuckR

    kansei commented

    lots of toxic batteries for a landfill

    Nickel is at about US$15 per pound. At the size/weight of the Prius battery, its not likely to be landfilled.

    It would be interesting to learn where all the battery materials will come from should hybrids truly go mainstream with millions sold per year.

  • avatar
    brownie

    Man, if I see one more anti-Prius article I’m going to scream. This is especially lousy work coming from a university.

    The main principles of hybrid technology (part-time or full-time electric motors, regenerative braking, etc.) have been used for a long time in heavy applications, particularly locomotives, and they have proven economically superior. Is it really that crazy to think that the same principles might also be economically superior when scaled down to an automobile?

  • avatar
    KatiePuckrik

    I did notice this little snippet of information in the article:

    “The other highly ranked cars had conventional petrol or diesel engines, ranging from the Mini Cooper D diesel hatchback to the Fiat Panda and other Peugeot, Citroën, Ford, and Smart cars, and Toyota’s own Yaris.

    All were of a smaller size class than the Prius, which the researchers acknowledge makes for an apples-and-oranges comparison.”

    So there you have it. The scientists admit that the study is flawed.

    I really don’t know why people are out to crush hybrid technology. Ok, I can understand why the Germans do (they invested much capital into diesel powertrains) but why everyone else? Probably laziness because they didn’t think of it first.

    Can we establish once and for all, if you’re going to compare a Toyota Prius or a Honda Insight, can you compare it against a similar sized family hatchback or sedan? Because even against small city cars, the Prius is still ahead, so imagine how much better a small city car with a hybrid powertrain would be?

    The battery thing is a myth (as pointed out by Mr Glenn126). The battery and the catlytic converter can be sold back because they are made of Nickel, Rhodium and Platinium, all of which are expensive raw materials.

    Not to mention, that the Prius is also more ecologically sound because of its brake by wire system which eliminates the need for toxic brake fluid.

    If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that the study was sponsored by Volkswagen!

  • avatar
    bfg9k

    # kansei :
    September 26th, 2007 at 8:02 am
    I’m reminded of the company that sold solar cells that replaced the roof panel of the Prius. They cost thousands (which you wouldn’t recoup in the next 20 years from the energy savings) and well –production of the cells is a very environmentally destructive process.

    Production of thin-film (flexible) solar panels uses a tiny amount of amorphous silicon, some Teflon, and a bunch of energy. While this process certainly has environmental impacts, calling it “very environmentally destructive” is hardly accurate.

  • avatar
    whippersnapper

    Yes, try putting your family and shopping in a Mini Cooper – D or otherwise. The Prius remains a useful, green and technologically advanced choice for those who define driving as a chore rather than a pleasure.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    The article loses any shred of credibility in the last paragraph, when it mentions the CNW study that claimed a Hummer was more environmentally friendly than a Prius. Calling the study “controversial” is inadequate; it was entirely bullshit.

    The study’s conclusions relied on a projected life of just 100K miles for the Prius and 300K miles for the Hummer. *Many* Priuses have already been documented going *well* past the 100K mark but I don’t think I’ve seen any reports of *any* Hummer going 300K miles.

  • avatar
    Mud

    Cripes, I don’t even own a Prius and I have to say that the study is pretty lame. Wading through the text yields lots of inconclusive info – I’m just amazed at what was published. At least (this time) it wasn’t my tax dollars funding this crap.

    I like my Crown Vics just fine thanks (GASP), but ya gotta be an idiot to not see that Toyota has a good thing going with that car.

  • avatar
    ret

    The main principles of hybrid technology (part-time or full-time electric motors, regenerative braking, etc.) have been used for a long time in heavy applications, particularly locomotives, and they have proven economically superior. Is it really that crazy to think that the same principles might also be economically superior when scaled down to an automobile?

    You’re half right.

    Locomotives are “hybrids” in that they run a diesel engine to run a generator which creates the electricity to turn the motors which turn the wheels. Which means that the electric motors are full-time.

    HOWEVER!!!

    That is what is known as a “series hybrid” versus the Prius model which is a “parallel hybrid”. The difference being that the Prius sometimes (or often, depending on your driving habits) uses its petrol engine to move the wheels directly. This lacks efficiency because the engine must be tuned to run at a range of loads and RPMs. The series hybrid system allows an engineer to tune a petrol (or diesel, or bio-fuel) engine to run at peak efficiency for a given load and at given RPMs.

    So, to say that the same technologies are efficient at a smaller scale is a little misleading because, until GM show us the Volt, no one is actually making a machine with the same technology scaled down. It’s a different critter and may not have the same benefits.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    KatiePuckrik wrote: “I really don’t know why people are out to crush hybrid technology. Ok, I can understand why the Germans do (they invested much capital into diesel powertrains) but why everyone else? Probably laziness because they didn’t think of it first.”

    It’s “greenis envy.”

  • avatar
    210delray

    I’m tired of all the Prius bashing also, especially the part about the battery pack contaminating our landfills, which is pure bunk.

    Anyway, I just wanted to point out that the Prius does use conventional brake fluid. I know this because my son bought one last year, and I was showing him how to check the fluid levels under the hood. There is no power steering fluid reservoir, because the steering is electric (as is the case for some conventional cars today).

    I don’t believe there are any current cars (yet) that are fully brake-by-wire.

  • avatar
    altoids

    The study is complete bull.

    Like RF said, the damning quote (from the FT link): “For the other 50 per cent, it ranked vehicles on their construction, energy and end-of-life costs, based on their length, width and weight.”

    In other words, bigger cars are bad for the environment because they require more resources to make them. Wow. As a academic scientist myself, this makes me cry with shame.

    As for Prius batteries, read this
    link.

    Prius owners can get $150 refund for their batteries, and Toyota recycles or refurbishes them. The astonishing thing is that most of the time, simply replacing the defective module (out of 28 modules), will allow the battery pack to keep going for another 6 years. Far from being a problem, battery replacement is so cheap that the refurbished batteries cost 1/4th of the original price, so they expect a boom in the used Prius market.

    This study is just green-envy. Toyota has not only stolen a march on hybrid tech, they have specifically designed batteries for easy recycling and reuse, and they are accumulating more experience with managing and reducing hybrid lifetime costs every day.

  • avatar
    FreeMan

    Re: Diesel-Electric locomotives.

    In addition to ret’s comments above, diesel-electric locomotives don’t store electricity in batteries for later consumption. The diesel engine turns a generator to produce electricity to spin the wheels, now. All the time that the loco is sitting, the engine is idling and the electricity is not stored. Therefore, no batteries. (Don’t know if they’re started with an on-board battery powered starter, or if they’re connected to a start cart of some sort. Don’t think I’ve ever been near one when it fired up.)

  • avatar
    N85523

    I think TTAC might have brought this up before, but all of the nickel used to make batteries for the Prius is mined and smelted at Sudbury, Ontario. Look it up on Google Earth to see what effect nickel smelting has on the area around the smelter. The mine is off to the east of town and the smelter and stack is to the west of town. It’s a dirty little secret that the Prius is associated with this operation, albeit indirectly.

  • avatar
    salokj

    What bugs me about all the Euros who swear up and down about diesels because they have “less CO2 per 100km”. I don’t know if it was TTAC or not, but per gallon (or litre if you prefer) diesels have more CO2…yes diesels are more efficient in terms of fuel used for distance traveled, but it doesn’t make it necessarily a better fuel…and how about if they talk about particulates? Or other noxious stuff that diesels pump into the air.
    I’m fairly environmental, I think its good that new diesels are getting above 50mpg combined and stuff, but diesel is nasty, and just because the EU has jumped into the Kyoto Protocol with both feet and ignores all other aspects of environmental impact (except everyone’s favorite demon CO2), doesn’t mean that “clean” diesels are better than gas-electric hybrids.
    I live in the EU and believe me…brand new (like stickers-still-on-the-windows new) diesels will spew black smoke under heavy acceleration; these are “good” diesels from PSA and BMW, not some chinese thing…

  • avatar
    Kevin Kluttz

    That’s SULFURIC acid in car batteries.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    N85523: Were they building Priuses in the ’60’s and ’70’s? Because that’s when the Sudbury situation started to make headlines.

  • avatar
    KatiePuckrik

    Kevin,

    In the UK we used SULPHURIC acid! ;O)

    Not to mention car batteries contain lead and lead oxide. When a battery is flat it contains high levels of lead sulphate which is highly toxic and can cause anemia and kidney failure. And we’re worried about Hybrid nickel hydride batteries!

    Trust me, I may not know much about cars but I am a chemist and I know how toxic and dangerous car batteries can be.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Volkswagen just announced that its future platforms will be available with mild or full-hybrid technology.

  • avatar
    N85523

    KixStart:
    No, I don’t believe Toyota had quite got the Prius into production by then, and I did not intend to imply that everybody’s favorite hybrid is the cause of the problems at Sudbury, just that it is a contributor. I work in mining and I am all for responsible resource development, but there is no free lunch and there is no industrialized product that does not require environmental sacrifice.

  • avatar
    brownie

    Ret and FreeMan:

    You are correct, of course. However I stand by the claim that the same principles are in play on a smaller scale, with energy storage as an added benefit from the specifics of the application to automobiles vs. locomotives. I understand the powertrain specifics are different, and driven in the case of locomotives largely by the benefits of electric motors over complex mechanical gearing to keep the diesel in its prime power band. Also regenerative braking in the case of locomotives plows power back into further braking, not storage for future acceleration as in the case of the Prius. But the principles (recapture energy from deceleration that would otherwise be lost, make use of the electric motor’s flat torque curve for acceleration from a dead stop, etc.) are the same, IMHO, although the execution is certainly different.

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that locomotive tech was scaled down for the Prius. Just that someone long ago recognized the value of those concepts in heavy applications, and there’s no reason for an academic researcher to presume that the concepts should inherently not succeed in automotive applications, and then not produce any hard evidence to prove so beyond hand-waving bs.

  • avatar
    Kevin

    How much oil does it consume? How much greenhouse gas does it emit?

    Those are the only “environmental concerns” that matter. Who gives a crap if there’s a battery in a landfill 1000 miles away from me?

  • avatar
    Cavendel

    FreeMan :
    September 26th, 2007 at 10:31 am

    Re: Diesel-Electric locomotives.

    In addition to ret’s comments above, diesel-electric locomotives don’t store electricity in batteries for later consumption. The diesel engine turns a generator to produce electricity to spin the wheels, now. All the time that the loco is sitting, the engine is idling and the electricity is not stored. Therefore, no batteries.

    I watched a show on Discovery a while back that showed new trains are actually using batteries to store energy with regenerative braking. This battery pack is then used during the acceleration period, allowing smaller diesel engines and better efficiency.

  • avatar
    dkulmacz

    Regarding diesel particulates . . . they may be what’s savings us. I saw a Nova show recently about the ‘Dimming Sun’. It seems that the amount of particulate pollution in the atmosphere (along with the clouds that it helps to produce) is significantly reducing the amount of solar energy that reaches the earth . . . I believe to the tune of 10-15% versus the 1950s. Without this dimming effect, any heating due to ‘global warming’ would be worse than it already is. The US is alreadye relatively clean in this area, however there is a worry that as other nations such as China and India clean up their particulate problem, the amount of solar energy reaching the ground globally will begin to increase and temp rise will really begin to skyrocket.

    You just can’t win sometimes . . .

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    dkulmacz :
    September 26th, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    …You just can’t win sometimes . . .

    Hehehe, ain’t THAT the truth!

    I recently read an article about..get this, TOO MANY TREES being a contributing factor to global warming.

    Something about too many trees in the Northern climates, preventing snowpack from melting, and thereby denying the atmosphere of much needed moisture, which would then be whisked off to become rain in the equatorial and Southern locales courtesy of the jetstreams.

    Yeah, I remember more now. There was also the issue of too much reflected sunlight from the too much un-melted snowpack. All that evil sunlight bouncing around up there!

    Are we back to coffee being bad for us, or am I still allowed to drink it this week? I’m livin’ large at the moment, because I’m allowed to consume coffee and real butter this week. ;)

    I wonder what we’ll do about the coming “Global Cooling” scare, in ten years or so. Admit it, we all know it’s coming. These so-called scientists who put out crap studies such as the one reported in this article don’t know what they’re talking about. ;) It’s on again, it’s off again. Whoops, nope, it’s on again!

    So when the global cooling scare comes, as it no doubt will, I wonder if we will be MANDATED to switch from solar to oil? Will I be forced to drive an SUV and host more barbeques? That could be fun, as long as beer isn’t “found” to be bad for me, along with coffee and butter (by that time).

    Sorry, I have to stop typing now. I’m laughing too hard to spell correctly!

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    Okay, okay, I’ve settled down a bit now.

    My Prius, at 45 to 47 (we’ll call it “46”) Real-World MPG (50% highway, 50% stop-and-go) will require 2,174 gallons of “regular unleaded” gasoline.

    If that gasoline cost me an average of $3.00 per gallon, it will cost me just over $6,500 for fuel.

    An H3 is no doubt a different vehicle, but if these bulging-forehead mathmagicians at foo-foo universities can compare apples to oranges, then so can I, dammit! :) Besides, I’ve never seen a consumer-market Hummer doing any “real” work outside of transporting one human being to or from work during the morning drive.

    Never saw one hauling a boat.
    Never saw one on a construction site.
    Never saw one going off-road anyplace.
    Can’t remember seeing one carrying more than ONE person, except on the occasional television show.

    But we all know that no CSI labs lease or own Hummers in Real Life, so as far as I can tell, the Hummer IS being used for the same things that the Prius is!

    :O

    A Hummer H3 (the smallest one) gets 20 MPG EPA on the highway. Hey, let’s use that number! To go 100,000 miles, it’ll require 5,000 gallons. Times $3.00 per gallon, and that comes to $15,000.

    Of course, I made several assumptions. Can anybody tell us if a Hummer H3 runs on regular unleaded, or does it require mid-grade or premium?

    Can a Hummer go 100,000 miles?

    Of course a Hummer can go 100,000 miles. As a permanently-former GM owner, I simply could not resist a bit of editorial license. But I CAN resist the manufacturer. ;)

    Folks, ya gotta take these studies with a grain of salt. Okay, a dumptruck of salt.

    And the whole battery thing. Look, the Prius has been on the road for 10 years now. Anybody who’s still bleating that tired old “batteries in the landfill” saw can be easily identified as somebody who hasn’t been paying attention. If it’s an average joe or jane, I can forgive that to some extent.

    But readers of this site probably should know better…long battery life and recycling has been mentioned many times by myself or other Prius owners.

    And of course, if it’s a member of the press repeating such nonsense, then I think it’s okay to pass judgement on them. They’re not doing a minimum of research. They’re not paying attention. Or they are letting their bias run rampant. Or they’re in SOMEBODY’s pocket. In any event, it disqualifies them from any further respect in their profession.

    Okay, I’m off to haul more mulch and compost. Why, yes of course I will be taking my Prius. I can fit 50 cubic feet in it, as long as it’s not over 700 pounds or so!

  • avatar

    “Diesel is nasty”

    As much as some of us tire of Prius-bashing, some of us also grow weary of Diesel-bashing.

    Some things to remember:

    * The original design goal of the IC/Hybrid vehicle was low-emissions to meet CARB mandate. Fuel efficiency is a side benefit, NOT a design goal.

    * The Diesel is the most efficient internal combustion engine in widespread use.

    * Unlike gasoline, the Diesel engine has the benefit of running with several alternative fuels, at virtually any ratio. Meaning it can run on petroleum, vegetable oils, BioDiesel, or any mixture of the above.

    * Diesel would in reality be the ideal IC engine to use in an electrical/IC hybrid vehicle if fuel efficiency was the goal.

    * By combining a Diesel-electric hybrid drive with a non-petroleum based fuel source, you could have the ultimate low-emission, high-efficiency automobile.

    The tough parts about that ultimate hybrid is scale. Much like a fully electric (ie zero-emissions) car, the trade-offs prevent large-scale deployment and acceptance. Petroleum is easy compared to bio-fuel production and emissions of such engines vary widely based of the feedstock of the fuel’s source supply. Gasoline is ubiquitous, Diesel almost, BioDiesel? Hardly. BioFuels are just now in their infancy and so little is known about them.

    But no, everyone has their bias, or skin in the game and instead of creatively thinking about how to improve the situations, everyone plays the “this is better than that” game and it devolves into a bash-fest/pissing contest/swordfight. Sigh.

    Batteries are nasty. Gasoline is nasty. Diesel is nasty. It is ALL nasty. There is no such thing as a “green car” just varying shades of nasty. The only “green” way to move about the surface of the planet is with your own two feet, or a bicycle.

    –chuck
    http://chuck.goolsbee.org

  • avatar
    TomAnderson

    Well said Chuck.

  • avatar
    hansbos

    Has anyone here read the Financial Times lately? That paper is even more lame then the Wall Street Journal. Prius batteries are fully recyclable and Toyota pays a premium to wreckers to buy them back. Solar panels return their investment in 7-10 years, depending on state policy and energy prices and are now being made from waste byproducts of the computer chip industry. Neither one of these technologies is perfect, but unless someone takes the first step no technologies can ever be perfected.


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