By on May 8, 2018

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

The first mass-market hybrid in the Western World, the Honda Insight, debuted while we were still worrying whether Y2K would lead us back into the Stone Age. Some days, I wonder whether we’d be better off if it had.

Regardless of my personal feelings about humanity and societal progression, we’ve had nearly two decades to familiarize ourselves with the gas-electric powertrain, but apparently not everyone got the message. A recent survey of 1,000 drivers shows there’s still plenty of confusion over what a hybrid car is actually capable of.

While the survey, conducted by UK publication Autocar and market research firm Simpson Carpenter LTD., centered around fuel types and driver preferences, it’s the hybrid question that interest this writer.

Let’s go out on a fairly sturdy limb and assume that British drivers have a similar level of access to product information as their North American counterparts. The UK is a wealthy, worldly, connected, technologically advanced nation with a sizeable motoring press and no shortage of cutting edge European car offerings. Frankly, they should know what’s up.

Instead, the survey found that “a third of respondents cited concern over driving range as a reason not to consider buying a hybrid model, despite this only being an issue that affects pure electric vehicles,” Autocar writes.

2018 Niro Plug-In Hybrid, Image: Kia Motors

It’s easy to forget that most drivers do not spend their free time reading about the latest new vehicle in the online pages of whatever. For over a century, gasoline and diesel ruled the roost, and shoehorning a new propulsion type into the conversation means it’s going to take some time before the information sinks in. The thing is, though, everyone knows what an electric car is. These existed over a century ago, only to reappear roughly a decade after the first hybrids hit the market.

Autocar notes that while nearly a quarter of Brits claim they plan to purchase a hybrid or electric vehicle as their next car, only 5.1 percent vehicles sold in the first quarter of 2018 fell under the label of “alternatively fueled vehicles.” That’s a little more than double the take rate in the United States.

“Potential hybrid buyers are confused by the technology and are being deterred by [perceived] barriers,” said Tom Simpson, managing director of Simpson Carpenter.

The technology, at least for a consumer, is not difficult to understand. A hybrid vehicle — depending on type — operates on electric power in some situations, but always has a gas tank and internal combustion engine on board. Maybe it’s the latter part of the description that’s not getting across. And who’s to blame for that? Automakers, their marketing agencies, and the media, mainly, as these are the entities that furnish the public with information.

Calling a hybrid, plug-in or otherwise, an electrified car doesn’t help this confusion, but it does help automakers burnish their green cred. While technically accurate, to the uneducated driver’s ear it sounds too much like electric. So much time and effort goes into touting a hybrid’s (limited) gas-free driving abilities — and avoiding any mention of gasoline or emissions or any of that nasty stuff — that a barely-listening buyer can easily become confused. It’s a communications problem that’s not getting better, either, even as sales of electrified vehicles rise (ever so slowly).

Sure, this is just one survey, but it’s revealing nonetheless. I’d be very interested in seeing an identical one conducted on this side of the pond.

[Images: Honda, Kia Motors]

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50 Comments on “Shocking? Many Buyers Aren’t Quite Sure What a Hybrid Car Is...”


  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Plenty of people here at work seem to know. One of the folks here even drives a new Clarity. It’s just as weird looking in person as it is in pictures.

  • avatar
    theBrandler

    Just stay the hell away from hybrids. Worst of both worlds as far as I’m concerned. They have generally been slow testosterone killing machines that suck the very life out of you as you drive to your destination. And worse still, they cost you more upfront then you’ll ever make back in fuel savings.

    Flat out, hybrids are a scam. You really want to save money? You really don’t care what you drive so long as you get from point A to point B? Get any used econobox. There is no advantage at all to a hybrid.

    • 0 avatar
      MoparRocker74

      DINGDINGDING!!!! Give the man a see-gar!

      I’ll put full electric cars into the same trash pile too. Stupid expensive for what you get, and to get anything that looks and performs acceptably, it takes what, $80k to get a Tesla? That’s a Hellcat and a lot of mods or pocketed savings, all while leaving the Tesla for dead in performance. Gonna take $180K to actually have a chance at spanking the HC…provided he hasn’t learned how to drive the car.

      Besides…electrical gremlins are the #1 thing that bricks modern cars. How is doubling down on that NOT a total screw job again? Whenever you ‘go green’ you’re giving up a lot while paying far out the ass for the privilege.

      • 0 avatar
        carguy67

        “… all while leaving the Tesla for dead in performance”

        Huh??? I assume you’re talking straight line ‘performance,’ which is all the Dodge is good for, but:

        Disclaimer: I am NOT a Tesla fanboi, but facts is facts.

        • 0 avatar
          MoparRocker74

          “Huh??? I assume you’re talking straight line ‘performance,’ which is all the Dodge is good for”

          I take it you’ve never driven a Challenger before.

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      I AGREE!

      I’m 100% in on electrics, but hybrids… my gosh. Can you imagine maintaining a 30 year old hybrid?

      Unless its a real mild hybrid that doesnt really even need the hybrid piece…

      But 100% electrics are even easier to deal with than gas. Cost is the only problem, but that will tank eventually. Remember when batteries cost like $80 for your phone? I bought a new battery for my LG for $2.99 .

      Electric motors are already coming down in price too. When I built my first electric car, a 72V electric motor cost 5 grand, now it costs like 500.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        The 1G Prius is now 21 years old, and … the only difference in the maintenance story vs. e.g. a Corolla of that era *seems* to be that by now it’s likely to need a new battery pack.

        I’m not a Hybrid Hippie, but I must admit they’ve been *far more long-lived* that I feared in the early days.

        (Reman battery packs for them seem to be on the order of $1-2k.

        That’s not exactly back-breaking cost for a major system on a 20 year old car, eh?)

    • 0 avatar
      happycamper

      My coworker is really proud of his Fusion plug-in hybrid. In Minnesota winters, he can only drive 8 miles on pure electric before the engine kicks in.

      Meanwhile, my Toyota Camry easily gets 30-35 mpg without trying. If I do drive efficiently, I can get over 35 mpg.

      So: all the complexity of an internal combustion engine and a pure electric drivetrain, with a trunk smaller than most subcompacts. I’ll pass.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        I do agree that the Fusion Energi and pretty much every other plug-in hybrid just aren’t worth it. But if you had a Camry Hybrid you’d be getting 10 or more MPG and it would be quicker in the 1/4 mi and 0-60. Not to mention lower maintenance costs and as long as gas prices don’t make a huge drop better resale value too.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Sounds like a personal problem on your part?

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Hardly worries me. Then again, I usually want a car for boring, bad weather uses. Otherwise, one of the three motorcycles or one scooter (yes, I am secure in my manhood, I own a Harley, a Gold Wing, and a scooter) gets the nod, because, quite frankly no matter how neat an automobile I’ve owned, it pales against two wheels and a nice motor.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      Nonsense. My awd Escape Hybrid gets mileage like a Corolla, is capable for light off-roading, and is very versatile. You think a used fwd econobox is equal to this thing? Gimme a break.

  • avatar
    JMII

    People don’t know how many cylinders their car has, do you really expect them to understand something as complex as car with TWO energy conversion systems?

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      Yeah for real.

      I’m an engineer and a car guru, and I can’t understand “Hybrids”.

      There’s so many combos.. plug in, mild, mid, electric with gas backup, gas with electric boost…

      electric with Gas backup often has range limits. Plug ins still require plugging in. Mild is nice but whether its a hybrid or not is insignificant to the buyer because its really just a boosted electrical system. Mid has questionable tradeoffs that often generate a negative ROI. gas with electric boost is really an advanced mild system that is not yet proven…

      It is tough to keep it all straight…

      • 0 avatar
        jalop1991

        You’re an engineer?

        No you’re not. You’re an escapee from the looney bin.

        • 0 avatar
          arach

          Even invented new EV drivetrain technologies and got an award from the gov’t for the innovations.

          That does count for escaping the looney bin.

          But calling something a “hybrid” is like calling something a “vehicle”. it doesn’t actually have a useful definition except that its some mix of propulsion technologies.

    • 0 avatar
      christophervalle

      My car has 8 cylinders. Unless I pick up beer in which case it’s 14.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      I suspect there are people who own hybrids, bought used, that are not obvious like the Prius; who don’t even know they have a hybrid.

      I know that out of the very many people who have been passengers in my Escape Hybrid, only one noticed it was a hybrid.

  • avatar
    Fred

    If you asked me about hybrids I would think of the Prius, ignoring the NSX. So yea my answers are skewed toward what I think of the Prius and ignoring what a hybrid is or could be.

  • avatar
    Dilrod

    Oh yeah, hybrids. The ones you can run on E85, right? ;-)

  • avatar
    Mullholland

    Recently purchased a 2000 Honda Insight for my commute in Southern California. Paid $3490. Just did the math on my first full tank: 9.18 U.S. gallons, 588.4 miles, 64.95 mpg. Already been rear-ended by an 18-wheeler on the 405. I’m O.K. So is the Insight. small paint scuff and a 1-inch crack on the bumper.

  • avatar
    Mullholland

    Only 96,543 miles on the Insight’s ODO!

  • avatar
    Peter Gazis

    The energy recapturing vehicles commonly refered to as “Standard Hybrids” don’t reduce gas consumption on the Highway. Most high milage drivers, do most of their driving on the highway.

    The Hybrid manufacturers(a.k.a.Toyota) benefit greatly by keeping the public confused.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Wrong on both counts.

      A few years ago my wife’s car was getting ~30k per year. The car she had the first year of that had a trip computer that among other things will give you an average speed. The car regularly showed the running average to be 32 or 33 MPG. Yes a lot of it was on the highway, but it was rush hour highway which meant a lot of the time was spent in stop and go or going well under the speed limit.

      As far as Hybrids not reducing hwy mpg, there is the disclaimer that things vary greatly between the different systems and mfgs. Most people think Toyota when they think Hybrids, due to the Prius. However there isn’t a non-hybrid version of it so we’ll use the Camry and some other midsize cars that come in regular and Hybrid versions instead.

      2018 Camry 4cyl 29 city 41 hwy, 2018 Hybrid 51 city 53 hwy, or a ~30% improvement. The 2018 Fusion Hybrid as a similar 28% improvement over the base 4cyl and the 2018 Accord Hybrid gets 24% more miles out of a gallon than the best non Hybrid Accord w/automatic.

      Many of the modern Hybrids can shut the engine down at freeway speeds and most of their engines run on an Atkinson like cycle that reduces pumping losses and increases thermal efficiency.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      Nonsense. Besides the Atkinson cycle engine operation Scoutdude mentioned, hybrid mileage during highway use also benefits from having a relatively small gas engine and using a cvt to always be in the perfect gear. They also benefit from LRR tires, though any car can use them.

      At the moment the mileage readout on my Awd Escape Hybrid says 35mpg. That’s US gallons. 42mpg Canadian, or 6.8L/100km. This is mostly highway driving, up to 110kph.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      I’ve driven a Prius on a highway in mountainous areas and according to the display, the electric motor was kicking in going uphill. I can’t remember the mileage, but it was definitely better than a conventional car.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      All of the other enhancements such as low rolling resistance tires, sleek aerodynamics, and other enhancements do help. My 2016 Prius got 38-43 mpg with the cruise set at 88mph on a recent road trip. I am thinking only VW diesels are comparable. The drivetrain also drops the gas motor down to around 2000 RPM at that speed when power is not needed.

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    I won’t lie: I’m a bit hazy when it comes to distinctions like plug-in hybrid, mild hybrid, etc. Even for a basic hybrid, I’m not sure I understand exactly how it works.

    I just don’t care. There is nothing exciting about MPG or efficiency therefore I never bothered to look it up seriously.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    I’ll repeat a comment from an earlier post about hybrids.
    When the Prius became available I did a quick add, multiply and divide comparing it to the similar sized Tercel. Using the “EPA” Mpg figures one would have to drive over 150,000 miles to equalize the cost between the two cars.
    And here in SoCal they still do Prius Racing on the freeways. I am regularly passed by Prius drivers, sometimes one on each side, they are doing about 80Mph to my 65.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      And what were gas prices then?? Half what they are today. You are also discounting the difference in resale value. The Prius held its value much better than the Tercel.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      All of the other enhancements such as low rolling resistance tires, sleek aerodynamics, and other enhancements do help. My 2016 Prius got 38-43 mpg with the cruise set at 88mph on a recent road trip. I am thinking only VW diesels are comparable. The drivetrain also drops the gas motor down to around 2000 RPM at that speed when power is not needed.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    Scoutdude, Gasoline at the time here in SoCal was about the same $ as today, $3.50 per gallon. One could do all sorts of calculations involving inflation of course.
    Gasoline price peaked here in 2008 at about $5.00 per gallon.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      I too did the calcs when the Prius was new and while prices in CA are usually much above the national average according to this in 2001 it was $1.43 https://www.energy.gov/eere/vehicles/fact-915-march-7-2016-average-historical-annual-gasoline-pump-price-1929-2015 and I’m pretty sure I used $1.50 when I did my calcs.

      Inflation adjustment doesn’t really affect the calcs as what mattered then was the price difference to purchase and the money saved due to better MPG.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    The only explanation I can think of for hybrids not being on car buyers’ minds is inertia or habit. Despite being aware of how suitable my hybrid is, not one of the people I know who has bought a car in the meantime has bought a hybrid.

    There is no shortage of choice in hybrids. Price differentials on new hybrids have come down to minor or zero compared to equivalent non-hybrids. Used or new.

    They do indeed get considerably better mileage. The reliability records are excellent. The batteries do not need replacing.

    I met a couple with a hybrid like mine. I asked them why they opted for a used hybrid. They said they were looking at several used Ford Escapes, and the one they chose because they liked the color and condition, happened to be the only hybrid. They said they didn’t care then, but would never again buy a regular gas car.

    Maybe the key is to just get people to test drive them. A test drive in a Prius is how I “got” that hybrids work and make sense. But pushing test drives of hybrids would require enthusiasm from dealerships and sales staff, and I think that enthusiasm is lacking.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      The Prius is a popular Hybrid with sales well in the millions.

      But Hybrids, EVs, and PEVs appeal to only a very small percentage of new car buyers – an insignificantly minuscule percentage of total SAAR.

      I believe they should be available to anyone who wants to buy one, albeit without the tax subsidy because not everyone who wants one has a $7500 or larger tax bill.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      The Prius is part of the Hybrid’s image issue. The stereotype of the driver aside the original Prius was slow, had throttle lag and was unsatisfying to drive and many people project that on all Hybrids.

      Fact is of course is that they have improved since then and many of the current models that have both standard and hybrid versions the hybrid is quicker 0-60 than the base engine.

      My wife is a convert and on her 3rd Hybrid and at this point she wouldn’t consider a standard ICE powered vehicle.

      @HDC the subsidies for standard, non plug in, Hybrids ran out a very long time ago and weren’t the federal one was never that much. If you were to buy a EV that qualified for the $7500 tax credit and didn’t have a $7500 tax bill this year you don’t loose the credit you just have to carry it over.

      • 0 avatar
        brandloyalty

        Were there ever subsidies for hybrids that don’t plug in? In Canada?

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          Yes there were tax credits for Hybrid vehicles between 2005 and 2010. Here is the archived page of what they were for the different qualified vehicles. https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/summary-of-the-credit-for-qualified-hybrid-vehicles

          Some states also had some sort of subsidy, my state, which doesn’t have an income tax, exempted Hybrid vehicles from sales tax, which with it bumping up against 10% was not insignificant.

          Of course for the income tax credit you do have to have some tax liability and I believe that there is a limit as to how many years you can carry that credit. However I will go out on a limb and say that the vast majority of people purchasing a new car have some tax liability.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Scoutdude, thank you for clarifying the subsidy issue.

        While I was never a candidate for anything EV, PEV or Hybrid, like many people I also did not have to file a tax return because my official income was below the 1040 “Who Must File” threshold.

        Of course that changed, big league, when we converted my wife’s Federal CSRS and FERS accounts into annuities when she turned 70 and 6 months of age.

        Suddenly, ALL of my military retired pay, social security income and all of her social security income were tied to her annuity payments and we’re having to pay beaucoup taxes!!!

        And having the stock market go from 18+K to well over 26+K before settling around 24+K today, necessitated accepting some cash payouts from the paid-up annuity, thus increasing our tax burden even more.

        Were I an EV prospect, I would welcome the $7500 subsidy.

        But I’m not.

        I’m just a V8-powered cheap-gas junkie.

  • avatar
    brentrn

    I bought my 25 yo daughter a 2012 Prius as a graduation present last year. She knows little about cars and does not care about driving. She does care about MPG. She has been very happy getting around 50mpg and trouble free this past year. I can’t stand driving it myself but she is happy.

    • 0 avatar
      ktm

      Show me ANY other car as reliable as a Prius. My wife had a 2008 that she drove for 8 years before giving it to her father (who, along with his wife, lives with us) 4 years ago. Not one issue in 10 years and 150k miles.

      She now drives a 2014 plug-in Prius that she loves. The Prius packaging is genius. It is like the Tardis, more room on the inside than the outside projects. The rear hatch area is voluminous, even more so when the rear seats are laid flat. She is also averaging around 65 mpg to date.

      People also tend to forget that the hybrid is primarily for emissions benefits; the fuel economy is the means by which they are achieving said emissions.

      I am a fan of hybrid’s and EV’s. I am very open-minded about all vehicles unlike a few posters in this thread. I own (and have owned) a number of sports and performance cars (350z, S4, WRX, M3, Mustang GT, LS1 powered 240z) and appreciate hybrid’s and EV’s all the more for what they offer.


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