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June 2008
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The CarGuy Editorial
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The CarGuy Editorial
Is a Hybrid right for you?
by Jerry Reynolds

If you turn on your radio or TV, all you hear are predictions about gas prices. While nobody knows for sure what is going to happen, the uncertainty of fuel costs have people thinking about smaller vehicles. Many people are considering Hybrid vehicles and most do not truly understand how they function. Here is some information you may find useful in making a good decision.
There are two reasons people buy Hybrid vehicles. Most buy them to save money on gas, while others buy them because they put out fewer emissions. Either reason is fine, and I will not address the environmental aspects of a Hybrid instead focusing on the practicality of the savings.
By definition, a Hybrid vehicle is a cross between a gasoline combustion engine and a pack of batteries. The mixture of the two, for some people, is a winning combination. We know that the traditional gas engine vehicle in many cases gets poor fuel economy and emits a lot of ground level ozone. On the other hand, no all-electric car has yet been developed that would travel highway speeds for long distances. Thus the creation of the Hybrid vehicle that melds both technologies into a fuel saving, more environmentally friendly mode of transportation.
I have had an automotive talk show for six and one half years. Until a couple of years ago, I seldom got a call from a listener wanting more information on Hybrid vehicles. However today, it is an extremely common question. The interesting thing is that the majority of people considering a Hybrid should not buy one. People that drive a lot of miles seem to be the most interested in Hybrids, yet they are the least likely to need one. Once I explain how Hybrids work, they seem to understand better.
I have driven just about every Hybrid offered today. In very simple terms, let’s look at a typical drive in a Hybrid. Like any other vehicle, you get in and start the car as usual. You will hear the gas engine initially but depending on conditions, the engine may shut off and the car will run strictly on batteries. Under normal acceleration, the car will continue to run on its batteries up to 25 to 35 miles per hour whereby it seamlessly switches over to the gas engine. At this point, the batteries are not being used and the car is functioning like a regular gasoline powered vehicle.
It is for this reason that a high mileage driver does not get much benefit from most Hybrid vehicles. At over 35 miles per hour, the battery portion of your Hybrid is idle and doing you no good. On the other hand, if most of your driving is at slower speeds, you may be a good candidate for one.
Another thing that tends to confuse people is that unlike regular cars, where you are used to seeing EPA fuel economy estimates of 18 city/25 highway for instance, Hybrid fuel economy ratings are the opposite. They will always get better fuel economy in town because they are running on battery power most of the time.
Last year in the United States, about 16 million new vehicles were sold, and of that number roughly 300,000 of those vehicles were Hybrids. That means that roughly 2% of the people who could have purchased a Hybrid actually did, and 98% of the car buying public rejected them. For most of 2007, there was good availability of Hybrids, so it was not that they were necessarily hard to find. Some people don’t like the styling of some of the Hybrids, but for the most part it was their love affair with big V8 engines and large SUVs. But the market is rapidly changing as more people are focusing on the high cost of gasoline and opting for smaller vehicles.
Some of my listeners refuse to downsize to a Hybrid. We have seen a huge movement toward a new segment called Crossovers. Simply put, a Crossover is an SUV that is on a car chassis instead of a truck chassis. The takeaway with Crossovers is the lack of pulling or hauling power. At this writing, Crossovers are the hottest segment of the market and will generate the most interest here at the upcoming Dallas and Fort Worth Auto Shows. The new Ford Edge is an extremely hot seller, the Ford Escape is as well, and many of us think the new Ford Flex that is coming out soon will be a HUGE hit!
I am often asked about the long term durability of Hybrids and I must say so far, by and large they have been extremely reliable. Perhaps the most telling test is taking place in New York City, where they put 18 Ford Escape Hybrids into taxi service three years ago. And trust me; the driving does not get more severe than this. After two years of service and 175,000 mostly in town stop and go miles, the vehicles have been flawless. Another concern I had was the effect of the Texas heat, but so far it has not shown to have adverse effects on the batteries.
One issue the Texas heat does present however is when it is extremely hot, Hybrids cannot run on their batteries as long when the air conditioning is running on high. This does not cause any problems, but it does reduce your fuel economy at lower speeds. 
Hopefully, you now know enough about Hybrids to know if it is right for you. As stated earlier, they make great sense for some people, and will not work for others.  
 
Jerry Reynolds is a former Dallas area auto dealer and is host of the Jerry Reynolds Auto Advice Show heard Saturdays 9-11 AM on WBAP 820 AM, and 11 AM to 1 PM in Houston. Jerry also does a weekly feature on the KTXA First in Prime News at 7 PM Fridays on Channel 21.

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