Hyped Hybrid Vehicles

With skyrocketing oil prices, and legislation promoting the manufacture and purchase of energy efficient vehicles, automakers have been scrambling to introduce hybrid vehicles that are still saleable to a large market. This has resulted in laudable products, like the Toyota Prius or Honda Insight, achieving a gas mileage of 60mpg and 57mpg in the city respectively. The push has also resulted in the introduction of laughable hybrid vehicles achieving sub-20mpg fuel efficiency, like the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra, boasting a 5-13% improvement on their non-hybrid counterparts. Do not be fooled by the hype, and take a close look at the numbers before assuaging your conscience by buying a hybrid vehicle.

Consumers are generally not prepared to sacrifice the security, size, versatility, and performance of powerful gas-guzzling vehicles. I myself purchased a 6-cylinder sport sedan when, in truth, a 4-cylinder family sedan would have sufficed, sacrificing a 10% poorer fuel economy.

Artificially insulating consumers from genuine escalations in fuel prices is hazardous for governments in terms of financial liability, and undermines the ability of the market economy to respond to the increasing pressures on the energy supply. Governments may instead need to modify manufacturing, purchasing, or consumption patterns by artificially increasing energy prices. They're planning on doing it in Ontario. It works for cigarettes. It works for Europeans and their gas prices. Europeans consume 30-60% less oil per capita than we do here in Canada or the US. Their gas prices are 2-4 times higher than those here or in the US.

So I don't envision an invisible hand guiding energy consumption, I see a benevolent hand, one interested in the long-term health of the planet, and the sustainability of the energy supply for as long as it lasts. Easily extractable crude oil reserves will run dry. We are ingenuous, but not ingenuous enough to create oil when it no longer can be found. Hubbert accurately predicted the peak of US oil production back in the 1950's as occurring sometime around 1970. This roughly coincided with the US requiring oil imports to keep pace with its consumption (see slide 10) for the first time. OPEC suddenly became relevant. Here's how the US Energy Information Administration describes the onset of the 1973 Energy Crisis:

In 1973, several Arab nations, angered at U.S. support of Israel in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, instituted an oil embargo against the United States and Holland. The Arab oil embargo came at a time of declining domestic crude oil production, rising demand, and increasing imports.
The US has done much since to limit its vulnerability to external price pressures, but this can only last so long. Eventually, world oil production will peak and then decline, while global consumption continues to spiral out of control. This is especially true of the massive developing economies of India and China.

I hope an enlightened leadership can steer the right course. Personally, I have not done all I can, but I have moved to within two blocks of work, eight blocks of my grocery store and other shopping, and 3km of most of my destinations in town. This is making a dramatic impact on my fuel consumption, more than any vehicle aside from a moped or bicycle could, both pretty impractical for a family of four.

For energy saving ideas, check out the David Suzuki Foundation.

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