From all the hype it gets, you would think hybrid technology is intrinsically green—and many Americans, including some policy-makers actually believe that. The Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) new hybrid scorecard lays that canard to rest.
In fact, most any technology that can boost efficiency can boost power instead, and vice versa. Thus, UCS’ evaluation found that just three of 34 hybrids achieved greenhouse emissions reductions—and commensurate fuel savings—of more than 40 percent, and another 10 surpassed 25 percent reductions. In contrast, the 21 mpg hybrid VW Touareg saves just 10 percent on mpgs compared to its conventional ICE counterpart, using the hybrid advantage mostly to boost horsepower from 280 to 380. Also sacrificing major greenitude for power are the Lexus LS 600h L and the BMW ActiveHybrid X6. Meanwhile, a bunch of GM SUVs, the Cayenne S and the Altima hybrid, according to UCS, while not scraping the bottom, do a lousy job of maximizing efficiency.
Interestingly, the top efficiency booster is not the car whose name is synonymous with automotive greenitude among the NPR crowd (I am probably making a gross generalization here, especially since Sam Brownback has a Prius but gross demographic generalizations are fun and easy). I’m talking about the Lincoln MKZ, the hybrid version of which boosts gas mileage to 39 mpg from 21 mpg in the ICE version, for a 46.2% increase (and is a cost-free upgrade). The 50 mpg Prius beats its comparable non-hybrid, the Matrix, by 44.0%, while the Lexus CT200h reduces fuel consumption by 42.9% (The latter is a noisy wimp, though, according to the October Consumer Reports).
The UCS website also provides an overall figure for greenitude, which combines greenhouse emissions reduction with smog reduction–the two don’t necessarily go together; a figure for hybrid cost-effectiveness, and a measure of “forced features,” or the cost of options that you have to buy to get the hybrid.
The site also includes an interactive page where you can plug in your state, what you pay for gas, and your annual mileage, to compare the annual cost of fueling different cars, as well as their hybrid features, and other specifications.
A more in-depth analysis by the author is available at Environmental Health Perspectives.