Mobility is a significant basis for quite a number of private and economic activities. Thus, it forms a critical part of our everyday life. In many countries, mobility demand is mainly met by road traffic, with modern automobiles and road networks allowing for a high level of individual mobility. However, there are issues that are a consequence of this mobility. For example, mobility results in significant environmental problems in terms of carbon dioxide emissions that are mainly attributed to the burning of gasoline. Another problem is the declining fuel reserves and the subsequent rise in oil prices which translates to rising fuel prices. For example, despite the US holding a mere 3 percent of the global petroleum, its citizens consume a whooping 25 percent of the oil supply in the world (Sanna 10). In 2004, that was estimated to be 20.5 million barrels per day, most of it imported (Sanna 12). Therefore, the increasing global demand for oil by emerging countries such as China, India and Brazil, oil prices are increasing at a high rate. Thus, with concerns such as declining oil reserves, increasing oil prices, environmental degradation and global warming, there was a necessity of rethinking the motoring experience. This is what gave birth to electric cars and the subsequent development of gas electric hybrid cars. However, do gas electric hybrid cars solve these problems in terms of fuel efficiency, lower carbon dioxide emissions and lower fuel costs? Yes they do.
Thesis: Despite issues of viability, gas-electric hybrid cars exhibit better fuel economy, lower fuel costs and reduced carbon dioxide emissions.
Gas Electric Hybrid Cars Provide the Solution
It should be noted that electric-powered vehicles are not new in American history. The year 1832 saw the introduction of the first electric-powered carriage, with Thomas Davenport being credited with developing the first practical electric car. According to Anderson and Anderson (18), different models and makes were developed, and in 1900, 28% of the 4200 cars developed were electricity-powered. However, when Henry Ford developed the gasoline-powered Model T in 1908, the presence of electric cars on the roads greatly diminished as they were considered to be unviable commercially. However, during the Arab Oil Embargo in the 1970s, there was a renewed interest in electric cars (Anderson and Anderson 20). And even with efforts to develop electric cars, questions of recharge times and the range they can cover led to the development of the gas electric hybrids.
A gas electric hybrid car combines the benefits of electric motors and gasoline engines which are configured with the aim of achieving different goals such as increased power, improved fuel economy or extra auxiliary power for power tools and electronic devices. Therefore, hybrids utilize some advanced technologies such as regenerative breaking, electric motor drive/assist and automatic start/shut off. The hybrid’s electric motor/battery combination provides the quick starts so that when the car is not moving, the gas engine can be automatically shut off to prevent idling and conserve fuel (US Department of Energy 1). Also, the battery is able to boost the internal combustion engine’s performance at takeoff. The gas electric hybrid’s internal combustion engine utilizes fuel that is available at any gas station and the battery is able to charge when the engine is running. So how efficient are gas electric hybrids?
According to Sanna (12), the gas electric hybrid can achieve an increased fuel efficiency of about 30%. Gas-electric hybrids have an advantage over their conventional counterparts and that lies in the energy recovery system which is achieved through regenerative braking. Regenerative braking makes it possible for energy recovery via an electric generator, and this energy is stored in a battery. In technical terms, resistance is applied to the drive-train by the electric motor, and this causes the wheels to slow down. Consequently, the energy from the wheels makes the motor to turn so that it functions as a generator. This converts the energy that is usually wasted during braking into electricity, which is then stored in a battery.
According to the US Department of Energy (3), data from the EPA’s 2007 Fuel Economy Guide indicates that hybrids achieve a greater fuel economy than their conventional counterparts both in the city and on the highway. For example, while the conventional 2007 Honda Civic does a combined 34.5 miles to the gallon, the gas-electric hybrid does 49.9 miles to the gallon. This is a 45 percent improvement. This improvement can be attributed to some of the advance technologies used in hybrids such as regenerative braking, electric motor drive/ assist and automatic start/shut off. In the electric motor drive/assist, the motor creates extra power which assists the engine in hill climbing, passing and accelerating. This makes it possible for a smaller and more efficient engine to be utilized. Also, the automatic start/shut off is capable of shutting off the engine when the car stops and restarting it when the accelerator pedal is pressed. This aspect is capable of preventing wasted energy that results in idling, especially in the event of a traffic jam. What about cost-efficiency?
Comparing the annual fuel cost of gas-electric hybrids and conventional non-hybrids, it is evident that hybrids are much more cost-efficient. Still, the data is drawn from the 2007 EPA Fuel Economy Guide indicates that gas-electric hybrids are cost-efficient and lead to significant fuel cost savings. Using the same example as above, while the conventional 2007 Honda Civic has an estimated annual fuel cost of $1204, the gas-electric 2007 Honda Civic has an estimated annual fuel cost of $795. This translates to $409 in savings and a 34% decline in costs. This can be explained by fuel efficiency or fuel economy described before. So far, the gas-electric hybrids have been shown to have improved fuel economy since they are fuel-efficient and cost-efficient. However, do they succeed in reducing carbon dioxide and other emissions?
Indeed, gas-electric hybrids have reduced carbon dioxide and other emissions. According to a report by UNEP (10), the combustion engine in a hybrid electric car is less exposed to transient loads and hence it burns fuel under more stable conditions. As a result of this, gas-electric hybrids emit less carbon dioxide and pollution than engines found in conventional vehicles. In comparison with older petrol and diesel cars, the UNEP report observes that gas-electric hybrids’ emission reductions can reach up to 70 percent for CO and HC, and 90 percent for NOx and Particulate Matter (PM) (11). This can be attributed to the engine configurations of hybrids. However, despite all these positive aspects of gas-electric hybrids, when it comes to the automobile market, it is the customer’s perspective that matters. Critics argue that these cars are not attractive to motoring enthusiasts.
According to White (1), while sales of gas-electric hybrids continue to follow their sales projections, they only occupy a small percentage of the auto market. They are yet to break into the mainstream market. This can be understood by studying the factors that influence the purchasing decision of the consumer. As of 2005, trends indicate that 12% prefer fuel economy, 33% dependability, 6% low price, 20% quality and 26% prefer safety. Therefore, it is worthy noting that fuel economy is not a top preference for consumers. This explains why fuel guzzlers continue to dominate the auto market.
But gas-electric hybrids have their fair share of criticisms. For example, Bunkley (1) observes that while these hybrids are fuel-efficient and cost-efficient, they carry a significant price premium when compared with their traditionally powered counterparts. Despite these high price tags, many gas-electric hybrids’ costs of depreciation are higher than that of non-hybrids since they cost more. This is compounded by the rise of other alternative forms of clean energy such as clean diesel, and compressed natural gas (CNG). This means that some conventional cars that are gas-powered are starting to match hybrids in terms of fuel efficiency. For example, Whoriskey (1) observes that the Chevrolet Cruze Eco is capable of reaching a fuel economy of 50 miles per gallon. This provides quite a match for the hybrids. Therefore, while gas-electric hybrids might offer better fuel economy and lower fuel costs, it is the extra cost of these fuel-efficient technologies that remains high, and thus it would take a driver quite a number of years for him or her to realize the cost-benefits or save money. Despite the challenges mentioned above, gas-electric hybrids offer a solution in the face of unstable oil prices, high costs of living and concerns about global warming. Their benefits outweigh their shortcomings and thus the public should embrace them.
As such, the paper has established that gas-electric hybrids are successful at improving fuel economy, lowering fuel. Hybrids are a step in the right direction especially at a time when there are concerns of declining oil reserves. For example, during the Arab Oil Embargo in the 1970s, fuel economy was a top concern for consumers. Therefore, the current concerns of declining oil reserves and global warming are reason enough for consumers to turn to gas electric htbrids. Also, the development of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) is quite promising whereby electric cars can just plug directly into the electricity grid and charge their electric batteries. Indeed, gas-electric hybrids provide the solution to better fuel economy, lower fuel costs and a sustainable environment.
Anderson, Curtis D, and Anderson, Judy. Electric and Hybrid Cars: A History. North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, 2005.
Bunkley, Nick. Payoff for Efficient Cars Takes Years. The New York Times, 4 April 2012. Web. 01 April 2013.
Sanna, Lucy. Driving the Solution: The Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle. EPRI Journal, Fall 2005, pp. 10-17.
U.S. Department of Energy. How Hybrids Work. Fuel Economy, 28 Mar. 2013. Web. 01 April 2013.
UNEP. Hybrid Electric Vehicles: An Overview of Current Technology. Nairobi: United Nations Environment Programme, 2009.
White, Joseph B. Electric Cars Struggle to Break Out of Niche. The Wall Street Journal, 25 Sep. 2012. Web. 01 April 2013.
Whoriskey, Peter. Conventional Gas-Powered Vehicles Starting to Match Hybrids in Fuel Efficiency. The Washington Post, 09 March 2011. Web. 01 April 2013.