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The Union of Concerned Scientists has released its annual Hybrid Scorecard for 2011. The group found that the auto industry often wastes the fuel-saving potential of gas-electric technology, delivering paltry fuel economy gains and pricing the cars out of the reach of most consumers. The best-scoring hybrid by far was the Toyota Prius, which tallied an environmental improvement score of 9.2, with second and third place going to the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Honda Civic Hybrid, receiving a 7.8 and 7.4, respectively.
“It’s not just the Toyota Prius and everyone else anymore,” said the study’s author, Don Anair, in a press release. “Automakers from Ford to Hyundai and Honda to Nissan are using hybrid technology to boost fuel economy and cut pollution without breaking the bank for consumers.”
Still, the group found that most hybrids fail to live up to their potential. Though nine of the top ten hybrid models offer fuel economy of greater than 30 mpg and score better than average on the report card, many gas-electrics are far from being a good value proposition—regardless of how a consumer weighs fuel or emissions savings. “Automakers are still producing hybrids that fail to deliver on the technology’s potential to dramatically improve fuel economy,” said Anair.
The two areas where luxury and light-duty hybrids in particular seemed to fail were improved fuel economy and price premium, which the UCS says is often created when carmakers force hybrid buyers to pay for features that don’t come standard on non-hybrid base model equivalents. In the case of some vehicles, this can add thousands of extra dollars to the price of a car.
The UCS also criticized automakers for dedicating too much of the supplemental electric motor boost offered in hybrids to improved performance, and not enough to decreasing the workload of the gasoline engine. Some of the lower-scoring hybrids in the study achieve fuel economy gains of just 2 mpg compared to conventional models.
Overall, the group says that hybrid options have improved for car buyers—particularly among the best-selling models. Automakers seem to be listening to consumer calls for maximized fuel economy at as little added cost as possible, but the change continues to be gradual.