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Diesel VS Hybrid
I have had more requests from people that have heard of this paper and wanted to read it so here it is.
HOW GREEN IS YOUR MACHINE?
How Green Is Your Machine?
Ryan C. Ronning
July 10, 2009
How Green Is Your Machine?
Canvas shopping bags and recycling centers. Wind turbine farms dominating ridgelines across America. Clothing made from recycled plastic bottles. Compact fluorescent light bulbs and rechargeable batteries. Energy Star appliances and recycled toilet paper. Al Gore winning a Nobel Prize for his work on raising the awareness about global warning. Bamboo “hardwood” floors. Refurbished appliances, thrift store clothing, used DVDs and CDs, and swap meets. Websites dedicated to green living, sustainable lifestyles, and organic foods.
Truly, the green movement has become the dominant story of the first decade of this century. One cannot turn on the television without seeing commercials touting the “green” attributes of a product or promoting an anti-consumerism lifestyle while still encouraging consumerism. Beyond peradventure, the most dominant aspect of the green movement has been the large scale introduction of hybrid vehicles and their unquestioned acceptance by the media and mainstream society as a de facto symbol of the green movement. After all, what better poster child for the green movement than the second most valuable personal possession one can have? But, what if these symbols of green living are not the earth friendly saviors the media hype has portrayed them to be? Is it possible that popular hybrids such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid are not the best choices for either the environment or the consumer pocketbook? Are there better choices that have been overlooked by the media?
By now, most people have been in at least one friendly discussion with someone over the influx of hybrid cars into the U.S. market and the truth is that hybrid cars are becoming increasingly popular and politically correct. Undeniably, hybrid owners are enjoying some perks that traditional car owners can only dream about. For example, hybrid cars are permitted in the HOV lanes in both Arizona and California during rush hours even if there is only the driver in the car. Furthermore, across the country, hundreds of premium parking spaces are being reserved for hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles. Likewise, there have often been impressive tax incentives to purchase hybrids. All these factors, as well as the certain smugness and air of superiority shared by hybrid owners, have been given ample coverage in mainstream media. What the media has failed to acknowledge on a wide scale are the problems associated with both the production and ownership of the traditional gasoline hybrids. These problems include the increased carbon footprint of production and the higher purchase pricing that effectively cancels out the savings gained through fuel economy. Yet, these problems need to be addressed and considered by anyone looking to purchase an environmentally friendly car in 2009. This is especially true considering the fact that the VW Jetta TDI --- a diesel car --- was named the 2009 Green Car of the Year (Green Car Journal Editors, 2008).
To begin the discussion, it is important to properly define the term “hybrid”. The eco-friendly hybrid vehicle technology of today contains a wide array of gasoline, electric, diesel, batteries, natural gas, flex-fuel, and bio-diesel configurations (Silke-Carty, 2009). However, the most commonly sold, environmentally friendly, personal vehicle in the United States is the gasoline hybrid vehicle such as the Prius, Civic Hybrid, Camry Hybrid, and Ford Escape Hybrid (Grusche, 2009). Although these cars rely on different types of drivetrains to create the gasoline and battery combination power, they are still similar enough in design to be considered as a group (Hybrid vehicle drivetrains, n.d.). Therefore, for simplification, all gasoline and battery power hybrids regardless of drivetrain will be called “hybrids” for the remainder of this discussion. Likewise, while all diesels are capable of using bio-diesel which makes them hybrids by default, for the purpose of this discussion, they will be considered only as diesel vehicles (Worley, 2006). However, it may be doubly important to remember the hybrid quality also when evaluating the overall greenness of the diesel car.
When the Prius and similar hybrids hit the markets, there were facts missing about some not-so-earth-friendly problems these cars possess. For example, because hybrid cars involve new technologies, they “leave greater pollution when they are created primarily because of the extra components required in manufacturing” them (Hybridcarstrucksvans.com, 2008, ¶ 4). Specifically, these eco-unfriendly issues include the 30 pounds of nickel in the hybrid battery (Power, 2008) which comes from Canada but then “ships…to Wales for refining, then to China, where it’s manufactured into nickel foam, and then to…[the] battery plant in Japan. All told, the start-to-finish journey [for the nickel is] more than 10,000 miles” (Martin, 2007, ¶ 6-7). Similarly, hybrids also require the rare-earth mineral neodymium which is obtained through deep earth mining and open pit mines that are not so friendly to the environment (Margonelli, 2009).
In addition to these environmentally unfriendly issues, there are also the issues dealing with the costs involved in hybrid ownership. For example, while most people have heard that there are tax credits available for new hybrid owners, they do not understand that these have run out on such popular models as the Prius and the Civic Hybrid (Internal Revenue Service [IRS], 2009) and they may buy the car before realizing their misunderstanding. Furthermore, the electric batteries in hybrids are costly and the warranties only range from five to eight years. After that, replacing the battery in case of failure is up to the owner and can cost over $3000 (Hodges, 2009). Finally, consumers are not told that the electrical shock from hybrid batteries poses a threat to people involved in accidents, emergency responders, and even maintenance mechanics who may not be properly trained (hybridcarchat.com, 2009).
Of course, there is always another side to the argument and despite the eco-unfriendly problems involved in hybrid production and the underlying cost issues, hybrids still make more sense than the gas-guzzling SUVs and mega-sedan luxury cars with poor gas mileage that dominated the market not so long ago. After all, hybrids produce fewer emissions and help reduce our country’s dependence on foreign oil through increased fuel efficiency. Furthermore, they can lead to tax breaks for some and a higher resell value for others (hub54, 2009) and most people will trade in their cars long before the battery ever fails and needs replaced (Hodges, 2009). Along similar lines, hybrid cars are some of the safest on the road and most emergency responders have had special training concerning hybrid technology (hybridcarchat.com, 2009). Most importantly, consumer demand for quality hybrids has pushed automakers in developing new eco-friendly, green technologies which have bled into other industries. In fact, the overwhelming media coverage of hybrids has done much to raise the awareness concerning global warming and making a social statement. As stated by in the Alternative Energy Blog (2005), “The point to be made is hybrid engine technology has encouraged a new way of thinking beyond the garage which has many applications from buses, trucks and tractors to even planes” (¶ 23). For that, we as a society owe a debt to the engineers who created, the manufacturers that built, and the consumers who bought into the hybrid vehicle technology of the past decade.
Gratitude for raising our collective awareness aside, in these hard economic times, consumers need to consider their pocket-books in addition to their desire to travel greenly. Because of this, it is only right that they take a hard look at the higher costs of hybrids and do the research to find out if the savings truly add up in the end. Fortunately, for consumers looking to purchase an eco-friendly car that is also easy on the wallet, there are now many reliable and credible comparisons to consider as they research their decision. One comparison to consider is that between a hybrid and its gasoline equivalent such as the Civic Hybrid and the Civic LX as well as the Toyota Prius and the Toyota Corolla LE. While the hybrid models have better overall fuel efficiency, it still takes upwards of a decade to make up for the higher price at the time of purchase (Editor, Million Dollar Journey, 2008). This can also be seen in other comparison reviews such as the one done by Mitchell (2007) who considers how much money could be put toward carbon credits and reforestation programs if people would forego hybrid premiums, purchase traditional fuel efficient vehicles instead, and donate the monetary difference to organizations such as carbonfund.org. By his calculations, the traditional energy efficient cars would be far more helpful for the environment in such a scenario. Finally, one has to consider the greenness of purchasing a used fuel efficient car or used hybrid over a new hybrid vehicle. After all, as pointed out by Squatriglia, by buying a used, fuel-efficient vehicle, the consumer will eliminate creating any new carbon debt because “the debt has already been paid” (2008, ¶3). This contrasts sharply with the carbon debt created by the manufacturing of a Prius which is not paid off “until the Prius has turned over 46,000 miles” (¶2).
Providentially for environmentally minded consumers with an eye on their bank account, there is a third choice beyond gasoline and hybrid cars. As stated earlier, the 2009 Green Car of the Year is the VW Jetta TDI, a car “achieves estimated highway fuel economy of 41 mpg” and “an affordable $21,990 price tag” (Green Car Journal Editors, 2008, ¶5). Obviously, to be the green winner, it also met “emissions certification for all 50 states without the use of special additives or extraordinary measures” (¶5). While a diesel winning the eco-friendly contest may surprise many Americans, it comes as no surprise to the Europeans and Asians where “diesel engines have been vastly popular” (hub54.com, 2009, ¶ 3). In fact, of “the top 25 fuel efficient cars in Europe…all but one run on diesel” and include such makes and models as the Citroen C1, the Toyota Aygo, the Vauxhall Corsa, the Fiat Panda, and the Renault Clio (BovineBazaar.com, n.d., ¶ 1). Not surprisingly, over 40% of new car purchases in Europe are diesels where cleaner diesel “fuel has been available since 1997” while the same fuel has only been in the US since 2006 (Business Week, 2006, ¶ 4). Still, despite the fact that Ford has three of the top diesel cars in Europe, those three cars have not crossed the Atlantic yet just as the Toyota and Honda diesels have not either. But, American perceptions are starting to change and the VW Jetta TDI is leading the way as a shining cynosure of the public acceptance to come.
Earlier this year, one of the leading automotive review companies on the web, Edmunds.com, did a side-by-side comparison of the 2009 Toyota Prius and the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI (Walton, 2009). After comparing factors such as handling, braking, interior room, and performance, the Jetta was the clear winner which only adds to the awards and accolades this car has been accepting. The strongest arguments in favor of the Jetta presented by Edmunds.com were as follows:
According to Edmunds' True Market Value (TMV®) pricing, the 2009 Prius Touring like ours is now $500 under MSRP thanks to a cash-to-customer incentive available until February 2009 and expected to continue into the spring. As it sits, our Prius tester rings the cash register at $28,933. But if you opt for a 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Loyal Edition, there's a $1,300 federal income tax credit similar to the one the Prius once enjoyed. With no options added to our already well-equipped VW, the effective price of our '09 Jetta TDI is $22,890, or $6,043 less than the Prius Touring, representing a 21 percent savings from Day One.
According to Edmunds.com's True Cost to Own (TCOSM) calculations, driving the Prius (at 1,250 miles per month) will cost $5,910 in gasoline over a five-year period. The Jetta TDI will consume $9,532 in diesel over the same period. On the face of it, the Prius will save you $3,622 in fuel costs. Hooray, the Prius wins! Not so fast. The Jetta TDI costs $6,043 less to start with, so there would still be $2,421 in the Jetta owner's pocket or bank account during those five years. Beyond the initial five years (60 months), it would take an additional 40 months to break even on fuel costs alone, so the Prius doesn't pencil out until after 10 months have elapsed, or eight years and four months (¶13-16).
This “break-even point” is a serious consideration for the eco-consumer in today’s rough economic climate and “with a new crop of diesel vehicles poised to invade the U.S., Edmunds.com has discovered that diesels present an even better choice for fuel-economy-minded consumers than hybrids” (Reed, 2009, ¶ 1). Furthermore, “Switching just one-third of U.S. vehicles to clean diesel can save 1.5 million barrels of foreign oil per day” (Reuters.com, 2009, ¶ 1) which fits into the heart of the green movement. Not to be forgotten, all diesels “can run on biodiesel, produced in the U.S. from crops such as soybeans, with little or no modification” (Reed, ¶11). This makes the VW Jetta even more appealing as it can run on bio-diesel right off of the dealer’s lot.
In a survey of 2009 Diesel and Hybrid cars, IntelliChoice.com reached the following conclusions:
Clean diesel vehicles are the first real “green” alternative to hybrids. When it comes to alternative-fuel cars, gas-electric hybrid technology has ruled the U.S. market, with the Toyota Prius leading the way. Clean diesel technology, in its first year of wide availability in the U.S., poses the first significant challenge to hybrid dominance. Clean diesels are generally priced at a lower premium and still offer significant fuel economy (IntelliChoice, 2009, ¶ 6).
Furthermore, IntelliChoice looked at five factors in determining the cost of ownership during the first five years of ownership. These factors were “fuel cost, maintenance, retained value, insurance and taxes and licensing fees” (Mack, 2009, ¶ 4). The comparison winner was the Volkswagen Jetta TDI with a “five year cost savings of $6210 over the gas burning Jetta and an MSRP premium difference of $2,070” while the Toyota Prius took second place as it only saved $4930 when compared to the comparable gas engine Camry (Mack, ¶5-6).
Like it or not, “green” is the buzzword of our time and the trend toward green living and driving is here to stay. While technology is continually advancing and improving, the smart buy right now for a new 2009 model is the Volkswagen Jetta TDI and this should continue into the 2010 models. Better yet, if you must purchase a car this year, consider purchasing a good, used, late model hybrid, diesel, or fuel efficient gasoline combustion vehicle. Buying used is not only earth friendly, but will save you lots of green which just may make your friends green with envy!
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