SUV's Outperform Hybrids in Energy Lifecycle: Interesting if True

An autmotive industry number cruncher called CNW Marketing Research has announced a study which claims that, “dust to dust,” high-polluting SUV's consume less energy than high-mileage hybrids. The CNW report claims to have calculated total energy consumption in the full lifecycle of an automobile, including construction and disposal, and concluded that SUVs have an energy advantage over gas-electric hybrids.

Newsday handled the story well, getting reasonable reaction from hybrid majors like Toyota and Honda. But the CNW study deserves more intense scrutiny. First, the company is comparing cheap, long-run production cars to the most innovative and experimental (and therefore short-run) cars on the market. It is inevitable that developing a new technology will be expensive (and energy intensive) in the short-term, and it seems disingenuous - at the least - for CNW not to acknowledge that in its report. CNW also offers a complete list of its results without providing any of the supporting data that might help explain its findings; you can't help but be suspicious.

It is true, however, that hybrids have parrallel operating systems – two engines and a complex drive train to make the whole thing work smoothly. It's a significant construction challenge. It's also true that it would be harder to pull a hybrid apart. That's probably why they fare so well in crash tests, compared to the easily demolished truck-based SUVs.

The best part of this story is that it led us to, a marvellous resource for anyone interested in hybrids or automotive energy efficiency. For example, have a look at recent posts on the relative CO2 savings between a Prius and a couple of dozen compact flourescent lightbulbs. Or a the cranky and articulate analysis of the Bush Administration's ineffective update of Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for so-called “light trucks.”

The folks at hybridblog, which is “a project of the Union of Concerned Scientists,” promise to weigh in soon on the CNW report. We're looking foward to it.

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