Monday, February 8, 2010

The Thing about Hybrids

Like a good environmentalist, I should be excited about all the new hybrid models out, right?

Well, because I love the Nissan Altima so much, that being my first car and all, I'm pretty excited about that one. It's also pretty stupid to use the first-generation of some technology, like people did with the first Priuses (Prii?) and with solar photovoltaic kits bought at Lowes, see the flaws and assume it just means the technology doesn't work at all, when really it's still being developed. But really, though it's good to keep the technology possibilities going, I'm pretty much convinced that battery powered fuel-electric hybrids, at least, aren't the thing that's gonna work for us here in America.

First off, the fuel economy of hybrids isn't really all that spectacular, especially of hybrid SUVS. Like a true environmentalist, I am not a fan, and hybrid SUVS might be a genuine great thing for people who genuinely need an SUV, but are sort of a feel-good excuse to help us keep our bad habits. There's even some evidence to suggest that the feel-good aspect of these cars makes a fair number of people justify driving more, because hey, driving's not bad anymore if you have a hybrid.

Yet the main issue is that the hybrid concept isn't that applicable to the United States, because the country is for the most part, a very spread out place. People in the US do have a huge problem with driving when they shouldn't, like my friend who drives the 0.5 miles to the gym so she can walk around the track. We aren't going to get real change in our pollution environment until we fix this mentality where it is possible to fix it, and because human nature is in the way, that is no easy thing to do.

But Americans also drive many places they really should drive to, because a lot of us live so far from stores that walking would be ridiculously impracticable, because there's no space for you on our traveling surfaces if you're a tiny bike-rider or a tiny walker, and you're likely to get hit on or yelled at besides, if not killed by someone who doesn't see you cause he or she is texting. We travel between spread-out suburbs and spread-out cities regularly for work, family, friends and attractions, and if we had to walk or bike, our productivity would plummet (though so would obesity rates). We live this way because there is so much space, so it gets filled with lots of stuff, and most people can't locate themselves to live in walking or biking distance to all of it, even those who are walking or biking inclined.

Public transport and good city planning is the answer to this, but I don't think people are going to give up private vehicles all together, because the space issue is an obstacle to public transit as well. How do you design a route that takes care of all of it in a time and cost efficient manner? Hybrids don't much help the space problem, because when you're traveling between North and East side of town you go a dozen miles at highway speeds, not a few miles with lots of breaking, where hybrids do their best work. When you make your monthly trip to the next state over to visit grandma, you're electric battery is never even going to cut on.

I have some friends, who happen to be unnaturally obsessed with volts-wagon diesel vehicles, which also tend to kick your hybrid's mpg-ass with what they clock traveling between their college town and their hometown. I certainly think they have the right of it: those German cars are designed for Audubon-reminiscent, high-speed efficiency, and that is why their gas mileage in our country always ends up being comparable.

1 comment:

  1. Hey it's okay, because our First Lady has it all figured out with her new "Let's Move" campaign. She hopes to encourgae healthy eating habits, more side walks and more incentives for an active lifestyle. Seems like all we ever do is throw money at the problem:( What about people power? Should we reinvent the foot powered automobile from Fred Flintstone's Age?