Ostrich with head in sand

Hear ye, late adopters, heel-draggers and others in the head-in-the-sand crowd. Maybe you’ve been feeling the pain at the pump, or reading the inconvenient news about global warming, and have been picturing a hybrid car for your future. But that might mean “distant future” to a procrastinator like you. Here are five reasons—nay, excuses—for waiting to buy a hybrid vehicle. And five counterpoints to suggest why a fuel-sipping, eco-friendly hybrid should move up on your to-do list in 2008.

Excuse #5: “Hybrid mileage is pretty good now, but I’m waiting for quantum leaps in hybrid fuel economy coming in the next year or two.”

You may be waiting a long time—even for a heel-dragger like you. Hybrid technology maximizes efficiency by smoothing energy use over the various loads of a driving cycle, avoiding fuel burn when you don’t need to, and recovering energy otherwise lost to braking. But modern cars have lots of creature comforts and safety features. That adds up to weight. When you factor in the rapid acceleration that we love and the laws of physics we can’t avoid, you soon bump into serious practical limits for fuel efficiency. Hybrids’ fuel efficiency will slowly increase over time, but unless we dramatically change the weight, size, shape, and acceleration of our vehicles, we should expect only modest improvements in the mpg for today’s most fuel-efficient cars—which happen to be hybrids.

Excuse #4: “What about the all the news about cars that run on electricity, hydrogen, and even compressed air? When those technologies arrive, the hybrid will become the 8-track of automobiles.”

There are definitely promising developments in the world of green transportation. But even the best of them—plug-in hybrids, for example—are years away. Best guesses put the first plug-in hybrids on the road around 2011 or 2012; affordable and highway-ready electric vehicles toward 2015; hydrogen-powered people-movers some time in the 2020s; and cars that run on compressed air — puleeze. While we’re waiting for those breakthroughs, today’s gas-electric hybrids are each saving hundreds of gallons of fuel each year.

Excuse #3: “Hybrids are cool, but they are too expensive. I’m waiting for the prices to come down.”

The most expensive part of a hybrid car is the battery system. As hybrid production achieves some economies of scale, the price of hybrid batteries will definitely come down. In fact, Toyota is feverishly working toward a sales goal of one million hybrids per year, to cut in half the so-called “hybrid premium”. This is excellent news for the cost-conscious car buyer, but the laws of supply and demand still apply. The best hybrids on the road are priced in the mid-$20,000s, and they are flying off the showroom floors. In 2007, hybrid sales grew by 38 percent, while the overall car market declined by 2 percent. What’s going to happen to that trend if gas increases to $4 per gallon, as many analysts predict? It’s better to be ready for a future spike in gas prices, then waiting for hybrid-makers to reduce the price of a product already selling like hotcakes.

Excuse #2: “Hybrid technology and batteries are unproven. I’m waiting for the technology to become more stable. Otherwise, I may get stuck with a gas-electric lemon.”

The first hybrids were introduced in Japan in 1997, and in the United States in 2000. That’s a lot of real-world durability testing. So far, the batteries are outlasting the rest of the vehicle. Reported cases of electric or battery problems have been rare. In addition, hybrid systems come with an eight- or 10-year warranty,. Nearly every major car company, from Porsche to Volvo, is investing in hybrids. Adding an electric motor to the gasoline engine is not rocket science—and is about the only practical way to get the big boost in efficiency and reduction in emissions soon to be required for 21st century motoring.

Excuse #1: “I’m waiting for a hybrid with features that I need and the style that I want.”

Okay, you’ve got me on this one—for the moment. Today, there are 13 hybrids for sale in the United States, made by five different carmakers. All 13 are four-door sedans or SUVs. In other words, no coupes, minivans, pickup trucks or convertibles. If you find a conventional gasoline vehicle that meets your needs and has decent mileage, then it might make sense to – brace yourself – wait. Just don’t plan to wait too long, however. J.D. Power predicts that the number of hybrid models will grow to as many as 50 by 2012. That figure seems overly optimistic, but even if 30 or 40 hybrids become available in the next few years, the field is likely to include every segment, from diminutive entry-level coupes to workhorse pickup trucks. By that point, hybrids will be commonplace—and you’ll be wondering why you waited so long.