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Do Hybrids Save Money? Depends How You Drive

Vehicle window stickers, fuel economy standards and even life cycle studies offer incomplete efficiency estimates for vehicles because they often fail to account for driving conditions, a Carnegie Mellon University analysis has found. Researchers concluded that driving patterns have a substantial effect on the economic and environmental benefits of electric vehicles.

CMU researchers Orkun Karabasoglua and Jeremy Michalek compared hybrid, extended-range plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles for their potential to reduce lifetime cost and life cycle greenhouse gas emissions under various scenarios and simulated driving conditions with findings including:

  • Drivers who travel in New York City-style conditions could cut lifetime costs by up to 20 percent by selecting hybrid vehicles instead of conventional vehicles;
  • Under the NYC driving condition, hybrid and plug-in vehicles can cut life cycle emissions by 60 percent and reduce costs up to 20 percent relative to CVs;
  • Under HWFET conditions – or highway test driving under 60mph – drivers of conventional vehicles see a lower lifetime cost option without a major GHG emissions penalty;
  • Under HWFET conditions hybrid and plug-in vehicles offer few GHG reductions, at higher costs.
  • Under US06, an aggressive driving style characterized by high acceleration, the all-electric range (AER) of plug-in vehicles drops by up to 45 percent compared to milder test cycles like HWFET, CMU said.

The study, “Influence of Driving Patterns on Life Cycle Cost and Emissions of Hybrid and Plug-in Electric Vehicle Powertrains,” comes as the EPA has planned new fuel economy labels starting with 2013 vehicles. These labels give consumers information about performance, e.g., the vehicle’s AER, fuel economy, estimated annual fuel cost, emissions, and smog rating. The new fuel economy labels will give information for consumers to make purchase decisions by providing a common ground, but the labels are lacking the critical comparison data about driving conditions, the report said.

The report acknowledges that most consumers are aware of differences between vehicle stickers and their own driving results. However, the introduction of hybrid and plug-in powertrains increases the significance of aggressive and stop-and-go driving conditions on the system efficiency – because of regenerative braking and engine idling. This leads to an increase in the importance of matching the right vehicle to the right driving conditions in order to meet vehicle efficiency expectations, the researchers said.

Picture credit: EPA

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4 thoughts on “Do Hybrids Save Money? Depends How You Drive

  1. I own a plug in hybrid and am presently averaging about 200 mpg. That varies a lot depending on the length of my trips, however I have not seen it go below 100 mpg in a year.

    Of course the way you drive affects mpg. That applies to any car. I usually drive at least the speed limit. However, I am always amused by the people who speed past me only to be stopped by the next traffic light while I catch up and actually pass them because I have arrived at the light just as it changed to green. Then they speed past me again only to be stopped by the next traffic light where the same thing happens again.

    These people both get to their destination about he same time as me AND are angry with me for both driving to slowly and then passing them when I could.

    Drivers like this seem to be the rule and people like me are the exception to that rule. Can’t you see how silly some drivers are?

  2. I do not own a hybrid, but I do practice ‘hypermiling’; so I try to drive the speed limit, anticipate traffic and traffic lights so as to avoid braking as much as possible, and turn off my engine as I coast towards red lights and while stopped. I get about 43 mpg in my 14 year old car that has about 120k miles on it. Can’t touch a plug in hybrid for mileage, but I couldn’t afford one so I am settling for what I can coax out of my vehicle.
    I also am amused by most drivers, who just don’t understand how much gas (and money) they are wasting with their driving habits – and with their gas-guzzling car buying habits.

  3. Good for you Doug! The cost saving in the difference between 21 mpg and 43 mpg is a whole lot greater than the cost difference between 100 and 200 mpg. It is a little more trouble for you but you get the transportation which you need and which you now can afford.

    People pay an awful lot for their impatience and the sad thing is that they get little in return. And sometimes it leads to real “road rage”.

    Strong acceleration is, in fact, satisfying. But to use the car for such amusement is awfully expensive in both original cost AND upkeep.

    So long as people sense that they can afford it, someone will supply their habit.

  4. One other point of general interest. Over the past two years I have occasionally counted car types during my daily commutes. I have two categories: ‘small’ and ‘large’ vehicles. I don’t count commercial vehicles, including those otherwise-normal pickups and vans with signage indicating they are business-related vehicles.
    The counts have held quite constant at about 50% ‘small’ and 50% ‘large’. That implies that half of all drivers choose to buy gas-guzzling vehicles – mostly pickups and SUVs. And they mostly use them to transport a single person to and from work. The beds of the pickups are nearly always empty. So there they are every day, commuting in rides that average perhaps 15-18 mpg. I’ll bet that those vehicles cost a pretty penny to buy, and they certainly cost alot to drive.
    Where is the sense in that?

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