The Battle for the Eco-consumer
When carmakers mixed the words ‘eco’ and ‘car’ together they baked a sweet smelling medley of buttery images to feed to consumers. You may remember the Toyota commercial where they build a Prius out of sticks, leaves and dirt. Then the car harmoniously returns to the earth. Come on, hasn’t your mother ever told you not to believe everything you see on TV?
One glance at a dealer sticker can produce a clear winner in the battle of emissions. A Ford F-150 (18mpg hwy) clearly loses to the Toyota Prius (50mpg hwy). However, these numbers can be deceiving. The EPA estimated highway rating doesn’t tell the whole story. First, it is important to distinguish between emissions and carbon footprint. A car’s emission rating is based on the quantity and toxicity of the greenhouse gases it emits. A carbon footprint is put together by calculating the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted during the entire production of the item being inspected. For us residents of earth, the carbon footprint is what matters.
When breaking down the carbon footprint of a car you must inspect its parts. The one thing a hybrid-electric or electric vehicle (EV) has that a conventional vehicle lacks are batteries. Hybrids create electricity in a few different ways, but typical passenger vehicles all use batteries to store the energy they create. These batteries consist of materials like nickel hydroxide, cadmium, and metal hydride. The environmental effects of mining for such materials are severe and apparent already in places like the Nickel Belt in Manitoba Canada. These batteries are like the batteries in your computer or phone. When you bought them they stored energy well, but they quickly lose their storage capacity. The same concept is true with the batteries going into cars. Eventually they will have to be replaced. With 17% of the total emission produced making a hybrid mini-compact going into the battery production, the carbon footprint of the hybrid car grows even larger with age. There is also the issue of disposal.
Depending on your lifestyle and the degree of vexation you’re willing to undergo, there are a couple of alternatives to EV or hybrid vehicles. First and most simply is diesel. Cars with a traditional diesel or turbo-diesel engine are capable of 40-50mpg, a number on par with the most efficient hybrids available today. Older diesel models like the 300D or Volvo 740 are cheap and are the proverbial marathon runners of the automotive world, known for their reliability even when the odometer rolls on past 100k. Another option is vegetable oil. Vehicles with diesel engines can run on filtered vegetable oil. A number of companies offer conversion kits that are relatively sweat-free. *(Golden Fuel Systems)
The truth is there is a war going on, and the victor will be next in line to inherit the thirst of the American motor dynasty. It is important to know which side you stand with, and why. The environmental offset of hybrids and EV’s are not as extreme as certain players are making it seem. The American consumer will inevitably choose the winner and there’s no weapon more potent than knowledge.