Comparison of Efficiency and Cost: Hybrid Vs. Gas-Powered Cars Research Paper

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Hybrid vs. Gas Powered Cars

Currently, global warming and a shrinking natural resource base are two of the greatest headaches for governments and regulators alike the world over. The price of gas in the U.S., for instance, almost doubled over the last decade, from $1.86 in 2004 to $3.62 on average in the first half of 2014; and given that more than half of the country's oil consumption is taken up by motor vehicles, one question looms -- what will the situation on our roads be like when our oil reserves can no longer sustain our consumption needs? Then there is the even greater problem of greenhouse emissions and global warming. The transport sector accounts for approximately 17%-18% of total CO2 emission globally, and automakers have been under intense pressure to roll out emission-free automobiles, and thereby reduce the damage resulting from the Greenhouse effect. More and more regulators are putting in place incentives in the form of tax credits to lure automakers into developing energy-efficient, emission-free vehicles. Hybridization is seen by many as the answer to the energy and emission problems of the 21st century and experts predict that by 2015, more than 10% of vehicles on American roads will be hybrid models. Well, most hybrid users refer to such models as 'the smart way to drive'; but is this really so? Those opposed to hybridization have argued that the high costs of such models lock out a majority of middle-income car buyers, and that hybridization may, therefore, not be a sustainable control mechanism in the long-term. This text compares the pros and cons of both gasoline-fueled and hybrid models and builds a case for the latter, demonstrating that they are not only more energy-efficient, but also more beneficial to the individual user in terms of long-term cost-savings. Before embarking on the main discussion, however, it would be prudent to define a number of terms that I will be making use of:

Gas-powered automobile: an automobile whose engine runs purely on either diesel or petrol (the traditional fuels)

Alternative fuel automobile: an automobile whose engine runs on fuel other than diesel or petrol (Pavan, 2014). They include solar-powered cars, electric cars, and hybrid electric models. Vehicle manufacturers have been under pressure to develop alternative fuel brands owing to the ever-rising prices of oil.

Hybrid vehicle: a vehicle that derives its motive power from a combination of two or more power sources (Pavan, 2014). The gasoline-electric hybrid model, for instance, is driven by a series of electric batteries in addition to gasoline (Pavan, 2014). The electric batteries are responsible for powering the vehicle's internal combustion engines, which basically implies that the gasoline requirements are very minimal (Pavan, 2014).

Hybrid vs. Gas-Powered Vehicles

For purposes of this text, hybrid cars and traditional gas-powered cars will be compared on the basis of three fundamental aspects -- environmental impact, passenger safety, and life cycle cost.

i) Environmental Impact

Emissions and Energy-Saving

Hybrid vehicles have significantly lower levels of CO2 and non-CO2 emissions compared to their traditional equivalents (Pavan, 2014; Reddy & Tharun, 2013). This is because the motive power needed to power the engine is derived partly from the electric batteries, and only a very small amount is derived from the combustion of gasoline (Markel & Simpson, 2006). This essentially implies that less fuel is used for propulsion, and consequently, less fuel is required. In the conventional models, engine-propulsion is derived primarily from gasoline, which ordinarily implies higher levels of fuel consumption. According to Rose (n.d.), hybrid engines have a combined gas mileage of 30 miles per gallon, compared to their standard equivalent's 21 miles per gallon. Besides their power-sharing capability, there are three additional features of hybrid technology that explain these low levels of fuel-consumption.

First, since the hybrid vehicle relies on both the electric motor and the engine for its peak power requirements, it is able to work effectively with a smaller engine designed for average, as opposed to peak power usage; and as Pavan (2014) points out, the smaller the engine, the lower the rates of internal energy losses.

Secondly, the electric batteries used have relatively high energy-storage capacities, essentially allowing the engine to make use of recaptured energy, particularly "in the stop-and-go traffic typical of the city driving cycle" (Pavan, 2014, p. 62). Reddy and Tharun (2013), however, raise concern that this is only so if the batteries are effectively charged before-hand. They identify these frequent charging requirements as one of the key drawbacks of hybrid technology, positing that inconveniences are deemed to arise in case one is unable to charge their batteries, because then, gas would have to be used to compensate for the low levels of electric power.

Thirdly, the regenerative braking feature, which basically works by converting the kinetic energy released during braking into electricity, allows for the recapturing of braking energy that would otherwise be wasted as heat (Pavan, 2014).

Reddy and Tharun (2013) point out that one of the greatest deficiencies of gas-powered engines is their narrow range of operation. Hybrid models essentially address this problem. Their electric motors have broader power curves, compared to internal combustion engines, which implies that the vehicle is able to travel effectively at variable speeds, with greater torque at low speeds.

Noise

Gas-powered vehicles are prone to noise at low speed and idling, particularly because during such periods, the internal combustion engine (ICE) is not being effectively-utilized (Pavan, 2014; Reddy and Tharun, 2014). Hybrid vehicles produce significantly lower levels of noise because of the broad range of operation provided by the electric motors, which essentially makes it possible for the vehicle to adjust its speed without necessarily putting a strain on the drive system. This noise reduction qualifies as a benefit, as well as a cost. For other road users, it may be beneficial, but for visually-impaired persons, who often "use the noise of combustion engines as a helpful aid while crossing streets," it is more of a cost (Pavan, 2014, p. 62).

Pollution

Whereas there is consensus that hybrid vehicles are more energy-efficient and more environmentally-friendly than the traditional gas-powered models, experts have raised concern about the environmental implications likely to result from the use and disposal of electric batteries, most of which are made of the high-voltage, environmentally-problematic lithium-ion chemical (Reddy and Tharun, 2013). However, as Reddy and Tharun (2013) point out, this may no longer be a significant concern, especially because most vehicle manufacturers have shifted to using NiMH batteries, which are not only less harmful, but also fully recyclable.

ii) Passenger Safety

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS, 2014), the weight and size of a vehicle influence the injury likelihood of its occupants in case of a crash. In a collision involving two vehicles that differ in weight and size, the occupants of the smaller vehicle are likely to sustain more serious injuries than those in the other vehicle (IIHS, 2014). According to Matt Moore, the Executive Vice-President of the Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of the IIHS, a hybrid car is on average 10 times heavier than its non-hybrid equivalent (IIHS, 2014). Well, it may not be ethical to talk about crashworthiness as a quality attribute, but truth is that the chances of sustaining an injury following a crash is 25% lower if one is travelling in a hybrid model, compared to a non-hybrid model (IIHS, 2014).

iii) Life-Cycle Cost

Hybrid vehicles are quite expensive and may cost anything from $5,000 to $10,000 more than their non-hybrid equivalent. However, in the long-term, they end up being way cheaper than the standard models, particularly because of the gasoline savings and government rebates that accompany it.

Illustration

Initial Cost: let's take the example of two vehicles - a hybrid base model costing $43,935, and its standard equivalent costing $38,375. In terms of initial cost, the hybrid engine's exceeds that of the standard model by a significant $5,560.

Government Incentives and Tax Credit: for this illustration, the federal tax credit rates granted to buyers of hybrid vehicles between 31st Dec, 2005 and 31st March, 2010 will be used. In this case, buyers were entitled to up to $3,400 in tax credits, depending on their automakers' hybrid sales. A 50% tax discount was granted to all buyers who purchased hybrid brands from an automaker whose hybrid sales exceeded 60,000 units; and a 75% discount for those with sales exceeding 120,000 units. In our example, a buyer who receives the full credit would only pay $2,160 more than one who buys the non-hybrid model, and who as a matter of fact receives no tax discounts.

Fuel Savings: as mentioned earlier on, hybrids, on average, have a 30 miles per gallon mileage, compared to their standard equivalent's 21 miles per gallon. According to a 2003 report by the Department of Transportation (Rose, n.d.), the average driver covers 15,291 miles annually, which implies that they use approximately 728 gallons of oil every year if traveling in a non-hybrid version (15,921/21), compared to 510 gallons (15,291/30) for…

Sources Used in Document:

References

IIHS. (2014). Hybrid Models have Lower Injury Odds than their Conventional Counterparts. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Retrieved 5 November 2014 from http://www.iihs.org/iihs/news/desktopnews/hybrid-models-have-lower-injury-odds-than-their-conventional-counterparts

Markel, T. & Simpson, A. (2006). Cost-Benefit Analysis of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Technology. WEVA Journal, 1(1), 1-8.

Pavan, R.S. (2013). A Review on Hybrid Vehicles. International Journal of Research and Engineering and Technology, 2(5), 59-64.

Reddy, S.S. & Tharun, K.S. (2013). Eco-Friendly Vehicle: Hybrid Electric Vehicle. International Journal of Engineering Trends and Technology, 4(4), 957-960.

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