MENU

Eco-friendly cars: An brief analysis on the environmental pros, cons to hybrid vehicles

Hybrid Car MGN.jpg
As climate change continues to drive more urgency with people across the globe, the popularity of hybrid cars continues to rise. (Photo: MGN)

As climate change continues to drive more urgency with people across the globe, the popularity of hybrid cars continues to rise.

Even some of the biggest names in sports cars are hopping aboard the "hybrid car" train. Back in September, Lamborghini revealed the FKP 37 Sian at the Frankfurt Motor Show. The brand claims that it's not only the most powerful Lambo yet - but also it's the first hybrid car in its lineup. However, Business Insider says the new hybrid is "kind of bad for the environment."

According to the publication's followup in October, the Sian isn't quite as environmentally friendly as it seems because while it does use hybrid technology to boost performance, it didn't appear to take fuel efficiency into consideration. With a top speed of over 217 mph and the ability to go 0 to 62 just under 2.8 seconds, it's the brand's fastest car ever produced. But, its energy efficiency problems come in when it comes to its motor.

Like some hybrid vehicles, the Sian uses a supercapacitor instead of a battery pack. While it may be a lighter and fire-resistant alternative that's more powerful and charges faster, its downfall is its range. According to Business Insider, the Sian's fully electric mode only activates in slow driving situations, such as parking and going in reverse. Additionally, Lamborghini's chief technology officer told the publication that the supercapacitor is "not too hot for emissions."

Meanwhile, at Porsche, there's the 918 Spyder. Though its top speeds are just short of Lamborghini's Sian, Porsche's hybrid accelerates faster and manages to be more fuel-efficient - without sacrificing performance.

With Porsche and now Lamborghini in the electric and hybrid car game, one question appears to persist: are hybrid vehicles really eco-friendly? Well, the answer depends on a variety of factors.

According to Good Energy - a British renewable electric company - the environment-friendliness of a hybrid car depends on how you drive it and where you source your electricity to charge it when it comes to hybrid plug-in models.

If you use the vehicle on short journeys and charge it using 100% renewable energy, then yes: your hybrid is much better for the environment than a typical car because you'll be effectively emitting zero carbon into the atmosphere. However, Good Energy suggests that using your hybrid's combustion engine produces the exact same emissions as a normal petrol or diesel car and won't be any better for the environment than a comparable fossil fuel vehicle.

Typically, hybrid cars use their electric engines for slow-speed travel or urban driving, which helps reduce inner-city pollution, stated Good Energy. In fact, it's the key areas they thrive in and there are some reasons why:

  • On-street parking makes it tricky to charge fully-electric vehicles.
  • Some cities have bans or taxes on diesel and petrol cars.
  • Lower emission vehicles have less of an impact on air quality.

Additionally, the electric motor can also help provide additional power for tasks such as uphill driving, which can ease the load that the gas engine takes, according to Good Energy. Some drivers can even find that their electric motors assist with accelerating and takes over in stop-go traffic, again reducing the amount of gas used at these points.

When it comes to just hybrids, not all vehicles are built the same. Actually, there three different classes of hybrid vehicles:

  1. Standard hybrids - these have a very small battery (by car standards, according to Good Energy) which is charged when braking and therefore has a shorter range and tends to work in conjunction with the petrol engine. Their benefit is that the battery can be replenished by driving, rather than needing to plug it in, which is done through a process called "regenerative braking." This process is where the motor essentially "reverses" when the car slows down to convert kinetic energy from the car's motion to charge the battery.
  2. Plug-in hybrid electrics - also know as PHEVs, these may be plugged in and have a small battery (though larger than a standard hybrid's) with a large fuel tank. PHEVs have a longer electric range than standard hybrids, and gas engine usually kicks in when the battery power is depleted.
  3. Range-extending electrics - considered to be the inverse of PHEVs, these vehicles have large batteries and a very small fuel tank compared to others, but they're designed to be used only occasionally. Rather than driving the wheels, the engine is used to charge the battery and while this can be more efficient and eliminate "range anxiety," they often cost more to run than purely electric vehicles or PHEVs and their generators can be noisy.

Though the vehicles themselves may be great for the environment, the manufacturing process of hybrid cars isn't as great.

According to a report commissioned by an auto industry trade group in 2007, it suggested that when you factor in the waste generated during hybrid production, a Hummer is actually "greener" than a Prius.

While this report was largely discredited by environmental groups, stated HowStuffWorks.com, it did raise the question of whether the pollution caused by hybrid vehicle manufacturing offset the benefits of hybrid vehicle driving.

An in-depth study by the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory stated that hybrid cars do require more energy to produce than regular cars, emitting more greenhouse gases and burning fossil fuels during the manufacturing process. In particular, the production of hybrid batteries requires more energy than producing a standard battery, which can result in higher emission levels of gases like sulfur oxide.

But, do the environmental impacts of hybrid production outweigh the long-term benefits of driving an eco-friendly vehicle? According to HowStuffWorks.com, the answer's "no." According to the science blog, if you drive both a conventional and hybrid car for 160,000 miles, the conventional vehicle requires far more energy to operate and emits far more greenhouse gases over its lifetime - significantly canceling out any imbalances during the production stage.

Wherever your stance is with the eco-friendliness of hybrid vehicles as a whole, their sales have hit more than two million alone in North American within the past decade since the Toyota Prius' debut, according to AutoBlog.

As hybrid cars have grown in popularity among the general public, some governmental agencies have begun to adopt them into their fleets as well. Recently, Ford rolled out the most innovative police vehicle - the 2020 Ford Police Interceptor Utility - which has a hybrid powertrain.

While more consumers become more environmentally conscious, so has state and municipal powers by investing in hybrid vehicles.

For example, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski has made it one of her priorities to tackle climate change and adopt initiatives to reduce the Utah capital's carbon footprint, and one of the ways she has fought climate change was by replacing the 110 aging patrol cars with new hybrid vehicles. However, 2News obtained records from police officers who warned city administrators that the cars will hamper their ability to respond to emergencies and don't meet their basic needs on patrol.

Tune into 2News at 10 as reporter Jeremy Harris investigates why $4 million was spent on hybrid cars against the recommendation of the police.

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER