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Plug-In Hybrid Cars: A Century to Pay Off?

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A few weeks ago, we told you about some of the environmental issues surrounding plug-in hybrid cars -- how pollution is shifted from the car's tailpipe to the local power utility. Today, C/Net is reporting how the plug-in hybrid vehicles may not pay off in gas savings until the transformed car is on the road for 95 years.

The consumer-electronics site reported on the results from a plug-in program pioneered by Internet juggernaut Google. The Google.org project, dubbed RechargeIT, recently took four Toyota Priuses and two Ford Escapes and converted them to plug-in hybrid vehicles that could be rejuiced from a standard wall socket. Google.org employees then used them as fleet vehicles.

What the Google group found was that the plug-in hybrid vehicles -- costly conversions of existing hybrids, not any of the projected plug-ins like the Chevy Volt or Toyota Prius in the works from automakers -- only saved about 88 gallons of fuel a year. The annual savings translated into about $150 to $250 less in fuel bills, with added electricity costs factored in. At $15,000 for the plug-in add-on, the conversion of existing cars would take nearly a century to pay for itself with gas at $3 a gallon.

If gas surges to $5 a gallon, the payoff is shorter -- just 30 years.

Still, the RechargeIT project says the plug-ins emit almost 5000 pounds less of carbon dioxide over a 12,000-mile year. That figure is about 50 percent better than a standard Prius. The gas mileage for the Prius hit 66.2 mpg in testing, a good measure of improvement over the stock Prius' 44.6 miles per gallon. Both of those figures were achieved in city driving; highway efficiency for plug-in hybrid cars might be even higher, RechargeIT told C/Net.

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Comments (24)
  1. I don't know why any body is surprised that converting a hybrid to a plug-in really doesn't work so well. This is the same as converting a ship to nuclear power after its been built. The vehicles were designed with a specific configuration, they don't work as well when you re-work that configuration. This is the not the same world as when we used to take production cars and make hot rods out of them. And why today's race card only look like cars on the road.
     
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  2. Take it away Thor.
     
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  3. At first I was thrilled with the idea of plug-in hybrids, but then i saw the cost estimates. Maybe the tech will become more affordable. But as long as electricity is produced in the US by dirty coal (52% of it!) and not clean wind power, hydro, or the inevitable NUKES, this is not promising pollution-wise, only oil independence-wise.
     
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  4. Wow! I can't believe it. I agree with you Thor, again. I think we are on a roll here.


    BL in San Fran (Toyota and Honda country)
     
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  5. The whole West Coast is T&H country. Judging from my 7 weeks in Long BEach in summer 03, plus other shorter trips there. And the lack of rust allows many old, smaller H&Ts to last 20 and 25 years, and they get far better MPG than today's H&C's. Actually, if i lived there, I'd buy one of these beaters for daily commuting if I had lots of miles to do. You can even find an 80s Civic CRX HF 50+ MPG 2-seater or a 1992-95 Civic VX hatch 55 MPG 5-seater

    (I could not believe it when one morning, comuting the 26 miles from Long Beach to Anaheim where I worked, i saw a Lambo Diablo in rush hour traffic. What a waste.. must belonged to a masochist, either that, or his other car had broken down..)
     
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  6. Does anyone else think $15000 is a little excessive to convert a Prius?
     
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  7. It's funny how the rumor mill works. I bit about 2 years ago, and bought a 1994 Honda del Sol with 125k miles on it. I heard all the great comments about the gas mileage. Well guess what? I rarely hit 30 mpg in everyday commuting, and even rarer is to exceed 35 mpg on the highway (this is with a new crate engine, tranny and clutch 40 k miles ago). I have a 30 mile commute, start work at 6:00 AM and leave at 3:00 PM. Traffic isn't that bad in the Portland, Or area at those times. My ex 2004 Accord was even worse; 26 mpg with a 4 cyl and 5 sp auto was the best I ever got on the highway. My daughter has a beater 1997 Cavalier that consistently gets 30+ mpg with a similar commute, but much worse traffic. My neighbor has a 2006 Prius, and has never seen 40 mpg (he's not happy, and has had it to the dealer several times). Another neighbor has a 2004 Jetta TDI that consistently gets 42+ mpg in everyday driving. I may live in H & T country, but I'm done with them...
     
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  8. Here in Denver, the 14,000 miles I've put on my 2006 Prius since buying it 22 months ago is almost exclusively city driving -- plus one round trip from Denver to Salt Lake City -- and I'm consistently getting 43-44 mpg per fill-up. One or two freeway trips per fill-up (to the airport, for instance) will usually push that number slightly above 50 mpg. I'm very happy with these results.
     
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  9. " Brad Says:
    March 26th, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    It’s funny how the rumor mill works. I bit about 2 years ago, and bought a 1994 Honda del Sol with 125k miles on it. I heard all the great comments about the gas mileage. Well guess what? I rarely hit 30 mpg in everyday commuting, and even rarer is to exceed 35 mpg on the highway (this is with a new crate engine, tranny and clutch 40 k miles ago)."


    SO? How much did you expect? The DEL SOL was never advertised as a High MPG hoinda as were the CRX HF (NOT the SI!) or the Civic VX in 92 and the civic HX in the late 90s.

    Do your eally believe you would be happier in an old ESCORT or CAVALIER? or will get better MPG? LOL...

    I have a 30 mile commute, start work at 6:00 AM and leave at 3:00 PM. Traffic isn’t that bad in the Portland, Or area at those times. My ex 2004 Accord was even worse; 26 mpg with a 4 cyl and 5 sp auto was the best I ever got on the highway.

    You should try the MANUAL. I STILL own a 18-yr old 1990 2-door coupe Accord, and it easily gets 35-37 MPG actual mpg on long trips.


    "My daughter has a beater 1997 Cavalier that consistently gets 30+ mpg with a similar commute, but much worse traffic."

    I bought a brand new pontiac 2000 in 83, with the 5-speed, rated (old epa) 28 city and 46 highway, with a 1.8 lt engine. Really an Opel Ascona re-badged, engine was made in brazil.

    It was a pitiful econobox, but if I put enough pressure on the tires and kept it at 55 -65 mph, I could get 42 or so highway on long trips. But the car was utter junk copmpared to the Accord 90 I bought after it dropped dead in 1994.

    "My neighbor has a 2006 Prius, and has never seen 40 mpg (he’s not happy, and has had it to the dealer several times)."


    In cold weather and short trips, the Prius should not do well (inefficient operation, cold starts etc)

    " Another neighbor has a 2004 Jetta TDI that consistently gets 42+ mpg in everyday driving. "

    I would believe this, and on the highway CR tested a golf once that got 55 actual mpg (EPA was 49)

    "I may live in H & T country, but I’m done with them…"

    NO link between the conclusion and the above. and if you get tthe VW, you will be shelling out $1000 for repairs five times a year...
     
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  10. Comparing this conversion project at $15K a pop to the proposed plug-ins using Li-Ion batteries is apples and oranges. Plug-in hybrids are a viable solution within certain boundaries: Charge overnight when grid is underutilized and rates are correspondingly low, vehicle has enough range to operate all or vast majority of the time without IC engine help, and of course... the magic batteries are durable and affordable. People with commutes over ~40 mile round-trip threshold... probably won't work for you.

    I know several Prius owners getting real world 40+ mpg. Like Thor said, ambient temp and duty cycle are critical... so are driving habits. Very cold temp, sitting in gridlock on a hot day with AC on or a heavy foot guarantee you'll never see the EPA sticker numbers. But... this is true of any gasoline engine vehicle.

    Diesels get 25-40% better mpg than gasoline (depends on many factors), and are more consistent whether idling for long periods or driven hard. But the recent run up in diesel price vs. gasoline is a warning sign... the entire world would like to shift to more diesel, and only so much of a barrel of crude can be #2 distillate. Without Europe's tax breaks for diesel vs. gasoline, light duty diesel won't make sense economically.

    Thor is also right about VW's less than stellar record for reliability and cost of repair$.

    There is no free lunch out there.
     
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  11. Thor Says:

    March 26th, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    "NO link between the conclusion and the above. and if you get tthe VW, you will be shelling out $1000 for repairs five times a year… "

    Where did you come up with this misleading information?

    I have a 2003 Jetta TDI 5-speed and regularly get 42mpg combined city and highway. The only time it ever has work done on it is for the every 10k oil-change and service. $300 is a tad pricey, but that's once every 9-10 months and it's not 'just' an oil-change, it's the full 10k service.

    Either base your statements in facts that you can back up, or keep your misleading information to yourself.
     
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  12. I've seen an experimental car that's a hybrid (think it was Japanese) and it got 100 miles before it kicked in to gas. If one drove it to work that means almost never fueling for gas.
    The cost would be around $38000, I think that would pay for itself fast. In California before the Big Auto Companies killed the electric car program there were free charging station at stores and various places to work. There were adapters for the house to plug in the cars overnight. If electric - hybrids were mass produced the cost probably could be the same, especially if the govt continues it's tax breaks.
     
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  13. Brand new nationwide averages based on 100,000s of CC transactions:

    (from AAA Fuelgauge.com)

    Regular Mid Premium Diesel
    Current Avg. $3.267 $3.468 $3.594 $4.022
    Yesterday Avg. $3.261 $3.462 $3.588 $4.027
    Month Ago Avg. $3.142 $3.337 $3.457 $3.599
    Year Ago Avg. $2.603 $2.763 $2.863 $2.758

    To those worried about Diesel Prices, they are coming DOWN while gas is going UP again, and this will continue into the Driving season as more GAS is needed.

    See also, this time Last year, diesel was actually cheaper than premium gas, and even than midgrade!!!

    The MODERN (NOT the 1980s!) Diesel is the BEST choice for maximizing MPG, esp. for SUVs and trucks, but even for luxury cars such as the M-B E320 CDI vs the E350 gas.
     
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  14. Actually, highway fuel economy for plug-in hybrids will be worse than comparable gasoline-only hybrids. The plugin carries extra weight and the plugged-in part only helps at the beginning of the trip.

    I believe the 95-year payback estimate. This is a half-baked half-solution to using electricity instead of gasoline.
     
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  15. "Actually, highway fuel economy for plug-in hybrids will be worse than comparable gasoline-only hybrids."

    Assuming you are on cruise control, no traffic, sure.
     
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  16. And Google.org is pissing money away on this because? Oh yeah, so they can talk about energy usage in another industry and get us to forget about all the power their data centers suck up.
     
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  17. That is the dumbest argument I have read lately. How can anyone with a straight face do a comparison of an off the shelf product (car from a dealer) with one that's got a $15,000 one of a kind mod and then say it won't pay for itself. No wonder we are outsourcing all our brainpower - we don't have any!

    Plug-ins will not cost much more than regular cars, and at the equivalent of $0.60 per gallon that you can buy electricity for in your own home, will not take long to pay for themselves. For TCC and CNET to even waste electronic digits to publish this is inconceivable.
     
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  18. Sigh. Sooooooooooo much misunderstanding out there.

    The reason that PHEVs save less fuel is because the U.S. measures mileage the wrong way round: distance per volume. The sensible way is fuel consumed per distance covered (Euros use liters/100 km, for instance).

    Looked at this way, improving a car from 50 mpg (Prius hybrid) to 100 mpg (Prius plug-in) saves you just *ONE* gallon per 100 miles. Moving a car from 10 mpg (big-ass SUV) to 20 mpg (hybrid SUV), which is likely to be far cheaper in batteries, saves you FIVE gallons per 100 miles. (I picked numbers to make the math easier, but you get the idea.)

    As Honda's John German points out, the battery advances required for PHEVs are likely to improve the economics of hybridization considerably--and it saves a lot more fuel to hybridize the same number of vehicles than to add plug-in capability to hybrids.

    As for well-to-wheels carbon emissions, using either the US average grid or the much-cleaner CA grid to charge a PHEV does notably improve the total carbon profile of the car. There are a few outlying circumstances (burning dirty coal in an unmodified Ohio plant) that may be slightly worse, but the bulk of cases do model out as reducing overall carbon.
     
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  19. In Europe they are claiming that 60% of the vehicles are Diesels, and they are claiming pretty good mileage. What is bugging me is that I am hearing when taken in for an oil change or any other simple repair or service they gouge a person so much that it off sets the better mileage over a gas model??????
     
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  20. YES!
    The Auto Industry is Expressing it's preparedness, in Knowing the consumer is LIVING Longer!.
    So take A Hundred years or so to realize any saving : NOW THAT'S! A GREAT DEAL! ?: Ain't IT?.
     
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  21. Mark Says:
    March 27th, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    "And Google.org is pissing money away on this because? Oh yeah, so they can talk about energy usage in another industry and get us to forget about all the power their data centers suck up."

    Those who live in glass houses..., Mark. Before you trash a company for using power for their servers, you should probably get off the internet, because, guess what, using the internet uses servers, no matter whose servers you use.
     
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  22. I own a 2007 Hilander and consistently get 30 mph (summer 33mpg). It's not the vehicle! Most people don't know how to drive a hybrid. The first rule is: if you have to use your brakes your not driving it properly. Look at least 5 cars ahead of you- he'll show you what's going on- if he's slowing down take your foot off the gas!
     
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  23. Nothing about cars pays for itself ever. Apparently, some writers have forgotten about entropy. When do leather seats, air conditioning or high performance tires pay for themselves? When does an after market stereo installed in place of the factory crapper pay for itself? Indeed, the entire automotive after market industry is in trouble - it must not even exist because none of its products pay for themselves. It's really about what consumers want. The smart producer will supply it (whatever it is) and make a decent profit if it's much desired. If car buyers want a lithium plug-in option so they can help, through early adoption, develop the superior acceleration that electrics offer (or just 'cause they want it and have money to buy it) and a pink bobble-head hula girl to boot, why not give them that, as a manufacturer, and make some money for a change? If you can't grow more brains, just act more greedy - it gets you to the same place in the end, as a producer. Please don't be scared of making money, automakers.
     
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  24. Plug in hybrid cars make a lot of sence to me. I understand 80% of drivers drive less than 40 miles a day 80% of the time. I would much rather use electricity than continue to be gouged at the pump by Big Oil & see most of those profits going to the Middle East. I am more concerned with lowering the cost of driving than Global Warming, which is also a concern. I also highly resent not being able to buy the fuel efficient diesel cars Europeans can in our "so called free country", the USA. In 1983, I bought a new Nissan Sentra diesel. I drove that car 50,000 in the 2 years I owned it, kept track of every gallon I bought & found that after I sold it, it averaged 42+ MPG, much of this in LA traffic! At the time, diesel was around $1.00 a gallon, so I sold the Sentra to buy a 1985 Mazda 626 diesel due to its added luxury. Wished I still had that car!
    In figuring future fuel costs, I use $5 a gallon & suggest you do also. I predict that gas will go over $4 this summer (diesel is already well over $4 in Calif. now), drop under $3 in Sept. & Oct. 2008 due to the election, then jump back to $4 & then go to $5 or more in spring 2009. I think Big Oil is gouging us on diesel now to discourage sale of the new crop of diesels we are susposed to get in a few years.
     
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