Drop in the Bucket

June 25, 2007: Source – HybridCars.com

Drop of Gasoline Falling from Pump

In many ways, hybrid cars are the poster child of American-style environmentalism and energy efficiency in the 21st century. But how much fuel have gas-electric vehicles saved since their introduction in late 1999?

That’s the question that the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) tried to answer in a newly released study. Kevin Bennion, the research engineer who spearheaded the project, said, “We were trying to anticipate potential questions from Congress and other government agencies about the positive effects of hybrids.” The lab crunched all the statistics—number of hybrids on the road, new and old EPA mileage ratings, user-reported mileage figures, and the same mileage numbers for vehicles that most closely matched hybrids in terms of size, weight, and performance—and produced the following figure:

To date, hybrids have saved 230 million gallons, or 5.5 million barrels, of fuel.

That sounds impressive until you consider that more than 8.5 million barrels per day go to light-duty vehicles (according to NREL, which used 2003 oil import figures). In other words, the seven years of market growth for hybrids have produced less than a full day’s worth of fuel savings.

Does this mean we should give up on hybrids? Absolutely not, according to Matthew Thornton, senior research engineer at NREL. “Although the fuel savings from hybrid vehicles to date is relatively small compared to the total fuel use, as the technology matures and these numbers increase, they can have a significant impact on reducing our overall transportation fuel use.” Currently, sales of hybrids currently represent approximately 2 percent of the new car market. The hybrid market in the United States is predicted to grow to between 5 and 10 percent in the next five years.

NREL’s Center for Transportation Technologies and Systems is looking beyond hybrids to the next generation of fuel-saving technologies which garner a great deal of media attention: hydrogen, biofuels and plug-in hybrids. “Because the marketplace takes so much time to adapt, these other technologies have yet to gain any foothold in the marketplace,” said Bennion. “The problems associated with fuel consumption cannot be solved overnight.”

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  • PW

    According to the story above “seven years of market growth for hybrids have produced less than a full day’s worth of fuel savings.” With hybrid sales continuing to grow daily, that number will continue to increase daily. The Big 3 already realize Toyota has the lead in Hybrid sales which is helping to motivate them to make better hybrids which will help reduce our daily fuel usage.

  • DaveM

    I suspect most hybrid car drivers buy them for individual fuel savings.

    Meaning lowering their own particular gas bills is the only contribution they can make.

    If this contribution is negated by how everyone ELSE drives, this does not mean hybrids don’t work. It probably means we have more people driving longer.

    I’d also look to see a comparison to the number of overall vehicles on the road, since if there are more cars on the road in general, the contributions of hybrids are reduced with other vehicles suffering from MPG losses due to congestion and the like

  • gjt

    5.5 million gallons….Sulev…. China, India…. technology is our only hope

  • KK

    Come on folks,
    its a no brainer. Buy more hybrids. buy less fuel.
    Let hybrid tech. improve thru the dollars we spend buying them.
    guess what?

    LESS FUEL!!!

  • TG

    1st comes ICE
    2nd comes ICE + Electric motor
    3rd comes Electric Motor + ICE
    4th comes Electric Motor

    Hybrids aren’t and were never intended to be the solution just the first step to accepting EV’s.
    Before step four we have to figure out how the government can make up for all the taxes they get from gas.

  • What is ICE?

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Begins with a single step.
    This study is silly but it will keep the detractors happy. It is interesting to see how desperate the detractors from electric propulsion will go to try to make it look bad though. They appear to be grasping for ever weaker straws.

  • michael a.

    The CO2 emitted from your tailpipe stays in the atmosphere for well over a century – warming the the climate,changing the weather, and the Earth 24/7/365/100.

    For Individuals, buying a Hybrid minimizes your contribution to climate change in BIG BIG way. Your descendants will thank you.

  • FLPD

    Since about every single Prius has been acquired and used, this is very good news. Despite the negative quip, a large enough segment of the public (i.e. those who read this) has made a very significant impact. When considering that a whole lot of non-Prius hybrids are not focused on MPG improvements the large majority is due to Prius owners!

  • kballs

    The simple math is that doubling the MPG of a 3MPG truck is going to save more gallons of fuel (and tons of CO2) in a week than a hybrid passenger car can save in a year.

    This really illustrates how important it is to use fuel saving technology on our big trucks, buses, and ships, because it will have a much bigger environmental impact than passenger cars.

    Unfortunately this study will just make a lot of people think hybrids are a lost cause, and that is far from the truth. Everyone plays a part in saving energy and resources.

  • Gerald Shields

    I agree with KK ; Buy more hybrids. buy less fuel. If there’s a viable electric car, buy that too.

  • ETM

    In Curcuit Emulator

    just kidding…

    Internal Combustion Engine

  • AP

    The moral is that one fuel-inefficient vehicle (like a Toyota Tundra) wastes as much fuel as 10 fuel-efficient vehicles (like a Toyota Prius) save, if driven the same distance. It may make people feel good to “do their part” by saving fuel, it takes the entire public to buy in before significant savings are achieved.

    But don’t just blame Tundra and Sequoia owners. Government policy has done nothing to discourage fuel use, and until they significantly raise the fuel tax, the demand for fuel-efficient vehicles will be unpredictable (depending on if we have hurricanes or Middle East crises or not). CAFE makes manufacturers build them, but fuel price makes you buy them.

  • Barb

    Vehicles should be taxed based on damage they cause the environment/carbon they emit. People hate taxes, and the idea of paying more tax just to drive a big vehicle will definintely turn some people off (“How dare you tax me. I’ll show you – I’ll buy a Prius instead.”)

  • Bruce Ackerman

    “Before step four we have to figure out how the government can make up for all the taxes they get from gas.” — a good start would be not needing to wage wars to secure scarce fuel sources. Also, not having to wage as many wars triggered by the disasters cuased by global warming will be a benefit we’ll never be able to measure.

  • Anonymous

    buy gas powered cars