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July 18, 2005

No Silver Bullets

Here's yet another reminder that we can't rely on technology alone to save fuel. According to The New York Times, the next generation of gas-electric hybrid vehicles is being designed mostly to boost performance, rather than to boost efficiency. To wit:

The 2005 Honda Accord hybrid gets about the same miles per gallon as the basic four-cylinder model, according to a review by Consumer Reports, a car-buyer's guide, and it saves only about two miles a gallon compared with the V-6 model on which it is based. Thanks to the hybrid technology, though, it accelerates better.

Not to pooh-pooh a 2 mile per gallon boost, but does such a small mpg gain really warrant the federal tax subsidy that's currently doled out to hybrids in the US? Of course, the hybrid tax breaks are scheduled for phase-out in 2006. But they've been extended so many times now that I'm wondering if they'll become permanent.

This phenomenon -- using technological innovation to boost performance rather than efficiency -- is really just a continuation of a long-standing trend. Per person energy use in the Pacific Northwest has remained flat for decades, as each improvement in energy efficiency has been accompanied by an equal and opposite increase in our appetites. Still, it's good to get a reminder of exactly what the consumer dynamic is here; said one buyer of a hybrid Accord, "I wasn't prepared to give up anything to 'go green' - not performance, amenities, or space." And that attitude is shared, no doubt, by most of the car buying public. Which serves as a reminder that nobody should be sanguine that technological innovation, by itself, will have much of a dent on our fuel consumption.

Posted by ClarkWD | Permalink


Thanks for bringing this up, Clark. When I first read this article, I was wondering what Northwest Environment Watch's (NEW) viewpoint would be on this issue.
I guess it's now a myth that a "hybrid vehicle" corresponds with "fuel efficiency." Good to know!

Posted by: Michelle Parker | Jul 18, 2005 7:49:14 PM

I think this says more about the american consumer than hybrid technology.

Posted by: Jon S. | Jul 18, 2005 8:16:25 PM

As long as the primary goal of industrial civilization is to exponentially grow the economy forever, greater energy efficiency merely sows the seeds of greater destruction.

Posted by: honeylocust | Jul 22, 2005 4:45:16 PM