The hybrid and electric future is still “almost here”

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Thanks to an accident last fall, my 2000 Hyundai Tiburon is probably not going to last until 2015 as originally planned.  So, I’ve started looking for the car to replace it… and at the moment, that car is the Toyota Prius C.

The Prius C is the newer, smaller version of Toyota’s Prius, a hatchback like the others, significantly lighter, and based on the Yaris platform.  (As it turns out, the Yaris is also going to be released as a hybrid, but because of the Prius C’s existence, Toyota may not release the Yaris hybrid in the U.S. anytime soon, if at all.)  The Prius remains the most efficient of the hybrid vehicles available in the US, and the Prius C looks to join the other Priuses—Prii?—at the top of that list.

As I said, I’d hoped that my Tiburon would stay on the road until 2015.  As I’ve watched the car market over the years, I’ve seen hybrids appearing at more and more dealerships, and of course, the all-electric Nissan Leaf  and the faux-electric sucker-punch of the Chevy Volt.  (The Volt was “supposed” to be all-electric, but Chevy revealed at the last second before release that they made it a hybrid… in other words, they couldn’t pull it off—probably knew it from the beginning—and tried to hide the fact from the public as long as possible.  But enough about GM misleading the public in order to survive on the suffrage of Americans’ pursestrings…)

2015 was the year that I had chosen as the point at which we could expect to have enough hybrids available, at almost every dealership, to make for a great set of choices and lower prices thanks to competition.  I also hoped that all-electrics would also be more numerous and, by that same competition, less expensive.

This is actually not the first time I tried to make this prediction.  Back in 1980, I visited the Earth Day celebrations on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (yes, I’m that old.  Shut up).  On display during that Earth Day were at least four all-electric automobiles, all Department of Energy supported, one of those cars from General Motors.  All of these cars were road-ready, and only needed to be built (and an electric charging infrastructure in place) to begin to fill our country with electric cars.

1980.

At the time, I thought: “This is great!  Do you realize that, by the year 2000, there will be so many electric cars out there that you can pick and choose from dozens of them, and never burn a gallon of gas again!”

Fast-forward to 2000, when I was in the market for a car, and found one hybrid (the Honda Insight), one on the way (the original Prius), and… that was it.  I didn’t like the Insight because of its small size, almost-$20,000 pricetag and waiting list for purchase, so I bought a Hyundai Tiburon that got mileage about the same as the 15-yr-old Datsun I was trading it for.

It was a sad day for automotive advancement.  In fact, 2000 was a sad year for auto advancement.

So, we fast-forward again to 2012, when my slightly-battered car is forcing me to shop for a car 3 years before I had originally planned.  This time, there’s better news: In 2012, 3 years before the date of my initial (well, second) prediction, 39 hybrid vehicles are available in the US (cars and trucks), more are on the way, and competition is indeed bringing sticker prices down for consumers.

For electrics, the news isn’t as good: At this moment in time, the Nissan Leaf is the only all-electric vehicle being mass-produced for the US.  At least there are a few all-electrics about to arrive in 2012, two from Ford, one from Mitsubishi, one from Toyota, and a car from China.  Other dealers are planning all-electrics “in the next few years,” though some will be too expensive for the average driver to even consider buying, and others will be produced in such small numbers that most consumers will never see them.

So, clearly, hybrid choices are great, while all-electric cars are still hard to find in 2012.  If you can hold out a few years, you can expect to see maybe a half-dozen electrics to be available in the US for average consumers… my 2015 estimate might end up looking not quite good, but okay, for availability of electrics.

But there’s a downside: The electrics are all very new out of the gate; battery performance is still not as good as most consumers would like, and are very expensive (the Leaf retails at $35,000).  Many consumers are nervous about buying all-electrics because they don’t like the idea of paying out so much for cars that don’t go very far (by their estimation), and whose batteries might be much more efficient and available at lower cost a few years later.  So, although the electrics may be available by 2015, consumer nervousness is likely to be still with us, impacting the sales of these cars.

Would I consider an all-electric?  Yes, if they were affordable (which, for me, would be about the low- to mid-20’s) and practical.  The Mitsubishi MiEV has a high-mid-20s price tag (and after government rebates, comes down below $25,000), and it’s available, so it’s worth a look.  But practically-speaking, it will only save you gas; there is no cargo space beyond a few bags of groceries, and the range per charge means you won’t be taking it on many driving vacations.  Still, if you have a second vehicle in the family that can take over those hauling and long-distance duties, the MiEV may be just what you want for short trips and grocery-carrying.  And since our household does have that other vehicle, I can afford to check out the MiEV.

Fortunately, my Tiburon still runs, so I’m not under pressure to get whatever I can as soon as possible.  That means being able to evaluate a number of cars, start saving up down-payment money, and take my time making a decision about a vehicle that will be intended to carry me to about 2030.  At which time, I expect my next car to be fully self-driving and capable of crossing the country entirely on electricity beamed down to it by satellite.

Did I mention that I also write science fiction?

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2 thoughts on “The hybrid and electric future is still “almost here”

  1. amacd55

    I am on my second Prius. My first was a 2002 “classic” and in my opinion a better car than the second generation. I traded my classic in on a 2005, which I still have. I have driven it about 90,000 miles and am averaging about 47MPG measured at the pump. I have the stealth and mapping over-ride mods installed. The difference in MPG between the two cars will never pay for the upgrade however driving the Prius instead of the Dodge-Cummins has probably paid for the car besides the fact that my mate hates the truck, it is a rough riding, smelly, dirty, smoky hard to park monster. We keep it only to tow our fifth wheel trailer. The Blue Book value of the Prius is down to around $8,000 and the classic would be even less. You could buy a used classic and even get a new battery for way less than anything new. Of course it gets “only” 44MPG.

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  2. Good point about getting a used model. I do like the Prius C because of its smaller size, but picking up the larger model “for a lot of dollars less” is worth a look! And I’d have to check out the stealth mod as well.

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