Hybrid Cars: What's in a Name?


Hybrid car sales are up, SUV sales are down; yep, hybrids are on the tip of everybody's tongue rage these days. That's a good thing, right? Scott Nathanson, the national field organizer for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), doesn't necessarily think so. He contends the term "hybrid" is confusing at best and misleading at worst. "People think that it if you slap a hybrid label on something, that makes it a green vehicle," he said. Unfortunately, he says, not so. According to UCS, the soon-to-be-released 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line SUV along with the GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado hybrids, make claims that are "hollow," classifying them as "mild hybrids," which, while true, should not be considered the same class of vehicles as models like Toyota's Prius or Honda's Civic hybrid. According to Nathanson, the Saturn Vue hybrid includes useful fuel-saving features such as deactivating cylinders when not in use and shutting off the engine while idling; however, Saturn's hybrid batteries are rated at 36 volts, while the Toyota Camry hybrid includes 244-volt batteries. He contends that a hybrid should include a battery with a minimum of 60 volts of electricity. Further, the Saturn hybrid battery pack "doesn't have sufficient power to provide an assist to the engine," according to Nathanson, which means that it cannot recharge its battery pack through regenerative braking.

To better inform consumers about the variation in hybrids, the UCS set up a website called Hybrid Center that's chock full of news, views and resources for all things hybrid. From buyer's guide to reviews and incentives, the site also has a good bit of tech information about what makes hybrids tick, and what they're actually doing under the hood while you're driving one. It's definitely worth a look for lots of us, from anyone who's mildly interested to those of you looking to upgrade or add to your hybrid fleet. ::Hybrid Center via ::Wired