Hybridization as a First Step

This morning as I arrived at the Bella Center under the grey cloudy sky typical of Denmark this time of year, I noticed a very sleek Toyota Prius parked behind the platform where the bus drops off the conference goers. Instead of following the crowd in to the Bella Center I opted instead to go check out the car. On my way over to the car I was approached by Lars Peterson who is a freelance journalist currently employed by Toyota to help promote the third generation Prius at the conference. We go to talking and I mentioned that I was from the United States specifically Michigan so I had a very strong interest in automobiles. He offered to give me a ride in the new Prius so I could see how the Prius handled in a busy city like Copenhagen.

We left the Bella Center and proceeded down the street towards the parliament building. As we drove we talked about the car we were riding in. Lars told me that the car gets 25km/L or 51mpg around the city. Also, while in the city center the car mostly runs on the electric motor so it produces almost zero carbon emissions. I noticed that the car is very roomy and I felt very comfortable the entire ride. The car had very good acceleration and Lars had no trouble maneuvering the car through the busy traffic. I feel I can safely say that hybrid cars have more than enough power for the average commuter.

There are some downsides however. One the downside is that the back seat and trunk space are very limited. This makes it very difficult for a family to justify buying a Prius if they will not be able to use it for a family trip on the weekend. Another downside is the price. A well stocked Prius in the US costs something like $32,344. This is considerably more then what most people are willing to spend for a car this size. Despite the downsides there are many reasons to be optimistic about hybrid cars.

One reason I choose to be optimistic about the future of hybrids is because of the large increase of diverse models that are going to be released  in the next few years. By 2012 there should be a wide range of hybrids from small cars to large pickup trucks available on the market. As the technology behind these vehicles improves and more and more hybrids are produced prices will come down and make these vehicles more affordable.

So the difficult part is how do we continue to move people towards hybrid vehicles? I think the government has a role to play by providing tax incentives for people to buy hybrid cars. I also believe that automakers should take the lead in phasing out production of all non hybrid cars. Obviously this is a process that will take several years to accomplish. However, by embracing hybrid vehicles the US can decrease its dependence on foreign oil and it will also help reduce CO2 emissions from vehicle traffic. Most importantly, moving towards hybrid cars will further increase the money being put in to research for hybrid and alternative energy vehicles.

While hybrids are a good stepping stone towards sustainable vehicles, the ultimate solution to protecting the environment is to use all plug-in electrics that can be powered by renewable energy. Sadly, these vehicles are still a ways off from being mainstream. In the meantime we should try to attempt to buy hybrid vehicles (if it is economically viable), we should also try to use mass transportation (where possible) to help reduce our carbon emission.

Ben Roberts

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