“Aw, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forty percent of all people know that.”

Reason – July 19, 2006:

…hybrids are at least better for the environment than say….. a Hummer, right? Nope.

Spinella spent two years on the most comprehensive study to date – dubbed “Dust to Dust” — collecting data on the energy necessary to plan, build, sell, drive and dispose of a car from the initial conception to scrappage. He even included in the study such minutia as plant-to-dealer fuel costs of each vehicle, employee driving distances, and electricity usage per pound of material. All this data was then boiled down to an “energy cost per mile” figure for each car (see here and here).

Comparing this data, the study concludes that overall hybrids cost more in terms of overall energy consumed than comparable non-hybrid vehicles. But even more surprising, smaller hybrids’ energy costs are greater than many large, non-hybrid SUVs.

As for Hummers, Spinella explains, the life of these cars averaged across various models is over 300,000 miles. By contrast, Prius’ life – according to Toyota’s own numbers – is 100,000 miles. Furthermore, Hummer is a far less sophisticated vehicle. Its engine obviously does not have an electric and gas component as a hybrid’s does so it takes much less time and energy to manufacture. What’s more, its main raw ingredient is low-cost steel, not the exotic light-weights that are exceedingly difficult to make – and dispose. But the biggest reason why a Hummer’s energy use is so low is that it shares many components with other vehicles and therefore its design and development energy costs are spread across many cars.

Convinced? Neither am I. But you can download and read his 458 page “non-technical report” in zip format here.

  1. Ben says:

    Heh, I was just listening to the new TWIT and John was talking about Li-ion batteries, then I noticed his blog was linking to mine!

    Anyway, some comments about this: It requires a lot of energy to make and recycle a battery. Plus, batteries don’t last that long…and so for instance, for every 1 diesel engine that gets placed in a car, you’d probably have to make 2 batteries to put in a hybrid.

    Another thing to consider is that the Prius is a fairly new car, lots of electronics and so it’s more complex to make. In 5 or so years, the Prius will most likely be much less complex and easier to make.

    I’m convinced that a Toyota Prius would use more energy over its lifetime than a VW Golf for instance. It’s hard to believe that it uses more energy than a Hummer though.

  2. OmarTheAlien says:

    The hybrids are relatively new tech and the development costs have yet to be blended into an old tech curve. Give it another fifteen years or so and this so-called “comparison” will tell a different tale.

  3. moss says:

    2 years research my aunt Petunia’s butt! Maybe 2 years’ RSS feeds for opinion pieces — that support the author’s conservative PC. Don’t let real world facts get in the way.

    When the first few paragraphs turn up complete bullcrap, why even read the rest?

    He says the Prius will last 100K according to Toyota. Lie. Toyota’s only statement involving that number is projected minimum battery life.

    He pits the Aveo (good grief) against the Prius for fuel economy. The Edmunds long term test of the Aveo averaged 23 mpg. Edmunds (and other) long term tests of the Prius averaged 41-42 mpg. Close to double.

    Even funnier, the Edmunds long term test of the Aveo concluded you’d be better off buying a secondhand Honda or Toyota!

    The easiest comparison of technology and cost is oranges v. oranges. Like my latest favorite truck platform, the Daimler-Chrysler Sprinter. Both UPS and FedEx use these as their smaller standard vehicle. Both are now buying them as diesel-hybrids instead of straight diesels.

    Both have decided the cost of operating these vehicles has been reduced by 50%. That’s a straightforward marketplace result. That’s a decision that in my days as traffic manager would have gotten me a bonus.

  4. Shane says:

    Dear oh dear! – Look how much more expensive these auto-mo-biles are than my good old horse and cart!



  5. J. Doe says:


    How much of this is the cost of innovation–which will eventually average out as the new technology standardizes?

    How much of this is a matter of coming out with new styles every year to appeal to new marketing plans? Do we really need the new styles?

  6. Andy says:

    The tip offs that the “study” is flawed are that they rate the Hummer as lasting “on average” 300k miles, while the Prius lasts only 100k. Complete and utter bull. There are Prius (Priuses? Prii?) out there that have over 200k and are still going, while I personally know someone with an H2 that has 30k and has already been in the shop for a transmission problem. The Prius hybrid system is warrantied for 8 years / 100k miles, but that’s not the hard and fast date of how long it will last, big difference. The numbers were simply skewed, and in some cases falsified, to support the funding source of the study. Can you guess who would want to say that a Hummer is more energy effiecient than the Prius?

    Nothing but big oil and American auto manufacturers trying to get some counter arguments in before “Who Killed the Electric Car?” comes out.

  7. Todd Henkel says:

    Why is it impossible to believe that a hybrid can take more energy “cradle-to-grave” than a traditional vehicle at this point?

    The economies of scale have certainly not kicked in. Also, the batteries are not exactly environmentally friendly and the composite materials require specialized manufacturing which also are not envrionmentally friendly.

    That’s not to say stop building and buying them. Technology will improve. What they can positively do is reduce our nation’s reliance on the oil economy. The more independance we gain from the radical nations the better.

    And I would wager most people (defintely not all) are buying them not for being “green” friendly but to save a few “greenbacks” at the gas pump long term – to heck with the total energy costs.

    My concerns about personally buying one today though include the cost premium due to the technology, cost premium due to supply vs. demand, repair costs (what would an engine or trans overhaul cost?), battery lifetime, and range (sometimes I drive in town for months then go cross country at other times).

    Eventually, I hope everyone is driving a hybrid or pure electric vehicle. Go nuclear power!

  8. JSFORBES says:

    I think it’s important to note what kind of energy consumption you’re referring to. Developement and production energy (not plastics of course) comes non-petroleum source (coal plants, nuclear plants, etc.). Since we only really care about our petroleum use (the effect it has on world politics), I bet the hybrid is a lot better than you make it out to be. Energy is cheap, oil is expensive.

  9. Todd Henkel says:

    #8 – Andy

    Be careful about attacking and getting rid of “Big Oil”. You may end up with “Big Electric”.

    Wait – we already have those… dang…

  10. Andy says:

    @ #11 – Todd

    Point taken. To quote Queensryche from the late 80’s, “Who do you trust when everyone’s a crook?”

  11. FRAGaLOT says:

    Shot in the dark here, but I always assumed that hybrids were simply “cleaner” for the environment to use than a gas powered vehicle. No one ever talked about how energy efficient hybrids are, it’s all about the environment, stupid! However with gasoline prices so high now, which is more cost effective?

  12. Kim Helliwell says:

    I own a Prius. It came with a 10yr/150K mile warranty on th traction battery. And I’ve read reports of Prii that have been driven over 200K miles and are still going.

    Add to that that the used and recycle market for traction batteries is likely to grow, and I think the economies of scale will definitely tip in favor of hybrids over the long haul. If not already.

  13. malren says:

    “However with gasoline prices so high now, which is more cost effective?”

    Not a hybrid. They still carry a price premium that makes the TCO higher than a similar gas-only model.

    Right now, hybrids serve no purpose but to inflate the self-worth of those who drive them. That will change, of course, for all the reasons already discussed. But *today* it’s nothing but what Matt & Trey called it. Smug.

  14. J says:

    The “Big Electric” you speak of could be kept in check by people using more energy efficient homes including thing like solar and wind powered. Have you ever tried to refine gasoline yourself? Not as easy I would imagine. Don’t laugh. I know people who sell electricity back to the power company. Have you ever sold back oil? Nope! You have to pay THEM to dispose of it for you. Besides what looks worse a large windmill and solar panels or electric poles with all those wires?

  15. ECA says:

    Know what this REALLY shows???

    the cost of the Hummer should be Alot less.
    I can still buy 2 Prius for the Price of the Hummer.

  16. Anon says:

    #15, when I think of celebrities who will punctuate my point for me, I think South Park.

    BTW, what words would you use for the purpose Hummers serve?

  17. JSFORBES says:

    18, penis enlargement

  18. Milo says:

    Ever heard of the statistician who drowned in a lake that was, on average, one inch deep?

  19. Angel H. Wong says:

    How many of you remember the $5000 IBM PC? it was very pricy and today you can buy a computer MUCH MORE POWERFUL for cheap $

    That’s something that Matt and Trey fail to tell people.

  20. moss says:

    Chuckle. Just bumped into this while researching new trucks from Toyota. Seems Hummer is having a problem with the wheels falling off!

  21. Harmanx says:

    I put a lot of miles on my ’04 Prius and am well over the 100K mark with nary a sign of demise. If someone at Toyota said that was the average vehicle lifetime, it was absolutely misstated, and being exploited for the purposes of those stats. Toyotas (the Prius included) average well into the 200K range — 300K should be far from unrealistic. On the flip side, every American car built since the 1960’s that I’ve ever owned started becoming too problematic and costly to maintain by about 125K miles — so I believe the Hummer 300K lifetime to have been an exaggeration by the manufacturer (again, being exploited for the purposes of the comparison). If you compare a Hummer and a Prius both with, say, a more realistic 225K lifetime, I’m sure the stats favoring the Hummer will have gone all to hell. For what it’s worth, I’ve read up on battery longevity with high mileage Priuses (old gen 1 and some gen 2’s being used as taxis and such), and have found no reports of expired batteries even well above 200K mileage.


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