Nowadays, when people hear the term “hybrid vehicle,” what often comes to mind is a relatively recent invention: an eco-friendly vehicle that runs on both gasoline and electricity. But hybrids, or hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs), have actually been around much longer. The locomotives that pull trains are diesel-electric hybrids, for instance, and many cities — like San Francisco and Seattle — already utilize diesel-electric bus fleets. Even submarines run on either a nuclear-electric or diesel-electric power combo.
In fact, any vehicle that uses 2 or more sources of power is considered a hybrid. But since Esurance doesn’t insure submarines, trains, or buses (currently), and I drive a Prius, I’m going to focus on the top 5 reasons to drive a hybrid car.
1. Save money (and time) at the pump
Even though the average price of a gallon of gas is predicted to drop slightly in 2013 (according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration), I wouldn’t buy that Hummer just yet. Hybrids are still your best bet for fuel efficiency.
According to fueleconomy.gov, the Toyota Prius (ahem) tops the list, getting almost 50 mpg. Others, like the Honda Civic, Mercury Milan, and Ford Fusion hybrids (which make up our entire claims fleet), still get over 40 mpg — meaning a hybrid driver can save hundreds of dollars a year in gas costs.
And since hybrids can run between 401 and 627 miles between fill-ups, (with the Prius getting 537 miles), you’ll be able to cut your visits to the pump too, which will save you time as well as money (though you can still make those trips to the mini-mart to satisfy your Snickers cravings).
2. Better for the environment
In addition to getting better mileage than most standard cars, hybrids emit lower levels of greenhouse gases and other foul pollutants into the atmosphere. Hybrid vehicles can reduce air emissions of smog-forming pollutants by up to 90 percent and cut carbon dioxide emissions in half. The EPA and California Air Resources Board (CARB) rate the Toyota Prius (double ahem) as among the cleanest vehicles sold in the United States based on smog-forming emissions.
Or is that smug-forming emissions?
3. Efficient for both town and country driving
The earlier hybrids were known for performing better in stop-and-start city traffic than on long hauls. This was because the electric motor generated more electricity each time the brake pedal was hit, which could then be used to accelerate quickly or drive at lower speeds without using any of the gas. Now, thanks to more efficient batteries, the electric motors can go faster and farther. The difference between short and long runs is minimal: in a Prius, you can expect to get around 50 mpg cruising down the highway or tootling about town.
4. Lower depreciation rates
Unless fossil fuels miraculously become plentiful, cheap, and clean burning, hybrid cars are not going anywhere. They are, and will continue to be, in high demand and thus will hold their value, which makes buying a hybrid a good investment. While it’s true that some hybrid parts cost more than those for regular cars, they also have longer warranties. Most car companies offer 8-year warranties on the hybrid system and battery, with 3-year warranties protecting the rest of the car. So it’s not unheard of for a hybrid car to run like new when it has 250,000 miles on it. And the best part: hybrid cars don’t require any more maintenance than gas-only cars.
5. The “BOO!” factor
If driving my Prius is my number-one pastime, my second-favorite is gliding up alongside friends in parking lots and scaring the bejeezus out of them. At very low speeds, when the electric motor is running without the gas, these cars double as (silent) pranksters.
But, my friends will be happy to learn that this party trick is on its way out. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), new federal rules will soon require hybrid and electric carmakers to install fake noisemaking devices. The agency believes that adding a noisemaker to mimic a regular car engine will alert unsuspecting pedestrians to the car’s presence, thus saving approximately 35 lives and preventing 2,800 injuries per year.
Whether you’re a fan or not, hybrids are here to stay. They make sense financially as well as environmentally and can even compete with many of their gas-only counterparts performance-wise. However, the price of a gallon of gas is probably the biggest reason they’ll only continue to gain in popularity and market share. Hybrid sales increased from 2.1 percent to 3 percent between 2011 and 2012. In addition, CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) regulations dictate that automakers must maintain a minimum mileage of 27.5 mpg across their product lines. This means that including a hybrid or 2 in their line allows them to develop larger, faster engines for their other models, thus ensuring hybrids a place in the lineup.
Tell us what you think. Are hybrids the next big thing or simply all hype? Start the debate by commenting below.