The average mileage for most petrol/gasoline powered cars on the road today is in the range of 18-22 miles per gallon or 28-35 kilometers per gallon. With prices hovering around ₹ 70 a liter, that equates to around Rs. 196 per gallon and about Rs. 2750 per tank (~14 gallons). That’s no chump change for most. Diesel variants range from 80-90 kilometers per gallon (sadly there are even more efficient diesel engines tested by GM under the Opel brand name that we have seen which gave about 250 kilometers per gallon but that will be discussed in another article). These are the two most widely used types of vehicles on the roads today.
Enter the hybrid. More specifically, the gas-electric hybrid car. More and more manufacturers (including luxury brands) are introducing hybrid variants such as the Toyota Prius, Ford Escape, Honda Civic, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Lexus RX450h to name a few. These hybrids promise to give us around 46-55 miles per gallon or 175-190 kilometers per gallon. The question then arises, are they really worth it? Especially considering the fact that the cost to purchase a hybrid version of the same brand is about $4500 (~Rs. 2,25,000 not including fees and taxes) more than the regular version. That’s not a very good start for the hybrid. But that’s where the negatives end and the positives begin. A disclaimer here: If you are an automobile enthusiast and like loud engines, exhausts and to race, a hybrid is probably not for you. Audi and Peugeot are pioneering the hybrid technology in motor racing at Le Mans and it will be a good gauge to see how good the technology is by their results this year.
Start up the hybrid and if you aren’t paying attention, you might even forget that you started it up. There is no engine noise and the only indication you’ll get that the car has been turned on is on the dashboard (battery usage display). At low speeds read: city driving, the lithium ion or nickel metal hydride battery (or even hydrogen in the case of a fuel cell) powers the car and it does take some getting used to since it is almost eerily quiet as you putter around town. Most hybrids also have the feature of turning off the engine when the vehicle comes to a complete stop to further increase the range. Once the speed increases, the battery then fires up the engine and the car begins to run on petrol. Also under braking, the excess energy that is lost as heat is usually recaptured and is used to recharge the battery (this is a feature that was developed in motor racing – KERS or Kinetic Energy Recovery System).
If you are an environmentally conscious person, you will be happy to know you also emit less pollution and depending on where you live, ride in the carpool lane by yourself or park at parking meters for free. The flip side is the disposal of the used batteries. The nickel is known to have carcinogenic properties. And the cost of raw materials for producing these batteries and motors is also going up. This in turn will be reflected in the cost of the vehicle.
Planning to use your car for a short period of time (1-3 years)? A new hybrid is probably not the car for you. We would recommend getting a used one so that you won’t have to pay the premium of owning a new vehicle. Owning it long term will see savings that actual make a difference. The cash you save also depends on the amount you drive. The cost per mileage increases the more you drive and the longer you own the car. Now will the hybrid catch on as a complete replacement for the petrol gasoline powered car? In the short term we think not. From a long term perspective, we will have to wait and see. It is possible other more efficient modes of powering vehicles may be discovered or even other alternative modes of transportation may be invented