Where Do Hybrids Fit In The Big Picture?
Considering hybrids, those with "inverted" fuel economy ratings – better city mileage than highway mileage – are consumer superstars. These hybrids account for about half of the hybrid models available today and garner a lot of press attention for their eye-popping MPG ratings. Is the manufacturer of a hybrid vehicle that achieves a conventional city/hwy mileage doing something wrong?
No, and likely, the manufacturer is doing something right. There are a variety of hybrid technologies that manufacturers employ, and the mileage rating is the result of the balance between highway and city driving. If your driving is predominantly highway oriented, you should look for a hybrid whose highway mileage is better than its city mileage. The benefit in these models comes from improved carbon emissions and a 20-25% reduction in operating costs.
Certain hybrid technologies produce an equal city/hwy MPG rating. This kind of hybrid offers value as well, for drivers whose mileage is equally split between city and highway travel and for drivers who need larger vehicles.
CAFE regulations get a lot of press because they're often revised upward. In short, CAFE regulations require an automaker's products to achieve a certain "average" fuel economy across its entire product line. Trucks are usually given a bit of a pass, but require the manufacturer to produce more highly efficient small cars to make up this difference. There is a real place for hybrid technology in terms of CAFE regulations.
In the coming years, hybrid trucks and SUVs will offer automakers the ability to continue building these products – which, like it or not, appeal to a certain segment of the market – and still achieve reasonable fuel economy ratings. Trucks legitimately appeal to small business owners, largely for their hauling and towing capacities.
Often, a self-employed contractor relies on his (or her) truck to get or retain employment. Reducing the operating costs of these vehicles – for which there are no replacements – will help this segment of the self-employed remain self-sufficient. For this consumer segment, the maintenance, mileage and operating costs of these vehicles are considered part of the cost of doing business, and are eligible for tax deductions and credits.
At the same time, mere "average" fuel economy, even from hybrid versions of trucks and SUVs will discourage the more cost-conscious consumer segment that has gravitated toward this market in recent years. For this segment, there are no tax breaks, so they bear the full operating cost of these vehicles. In the face of rising fuel costs, there are fewer practical reasons for most consumers to buy or drive these vehicles.
Hybrid technologies for pickups and SUVs will enable the automakers to produce cleaner, more efficient work vehicles, while reducing the vehicles' overall market share. Fewer trucks and more fuel-conscious consumers who opt for smaller, safer and more economical passenger cars are long overdue.
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