Monthly Archives: November 2005

More on hybrid cars

It seems others have come to the same conclusions about hybrids that I have – that you have to go beyond economic reasons to buy one – but there are a few interesting sites out there with more info. Some people have begin modifying the hybrids, like eDrive Systems who has added more battery power (and I believe changed the car’s programming unit to use more electricity than gas) but it requires even more money for the conversion and an electrical outlet. However, it does get 100 to 150 mpg they claim. They say it’s still not economically feasible yet though. There’s some added info on this process at the CalCars site, a place devoted to more hybrid use in California.

And then there’s the OmniNerd site that has a large article, with math formulas to help you calculate how much you’ll save (or not save) if you buy a hybrid.

Things I wouldn’t have thought of doing

I’ve never been a big proponent of Powerpoint and I never would have thought of creating a blog on it, but it seems there is one, and it’s good. The link takes you to a comparison of the presentation styles of Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates and it’s very effective at pointing out why Jobs’ works better than Gates’ presentation. It’s a good site. Check it out, especially if you’re working on a presentation for someone.

Hybrid Cars

Before we ought our latest car last April, we seriously looked at hybrid cars. I test drove a Prius and a Civic hybrid. I loved the Prius – it had plenty of room, handled well, and it could get up to 44 MPG on the highway. Since most of my commute is highway miles, it would work out fine for me.

We also considered the Honda Insight which gets over 50 MPG but it’s handling was rated as poor by several sites (Edmunds and Consumer Reports) and the descriptions made it sound like semis would blow it off the interstates too easily.

However, at one Honda dealer a salesperson made a comment about the hybrids that sent me to the spreadsheets for analysis. He suggested we look at how much more gas we could buy with the difference in costs between a hybrid and a conventional gas engine. So I listed out all the cars we were considering, with the pricing we’d been quoted, for several models/makes.

The basic criteria was that the miles per gallon rating had to be over 30 according to Consumer Reporrts’ testing and the car had to be recommended by CR or Edmunds. The Honda Civic in gas and hybrid versions were there, as was the Scion xA, the Mini Cooper, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Toyota Corolla, and the Toyota Matrix.

Then we test drove them all while I was gathering the data for my spreadsheet. The Matrix didn’t get enough mileage, and the Corolla name sounds too much like a cigar, plus the other Toyotas were better cars. I looked at the price of each one, as fully equipped as we planned to buy on each one. I figured 30,000 miles a year – reasonable conslidering our lives at present – and gas at $3.25 per gallon ($3.35 per gallon for the Mini). I was able to calculate how much the car would cost to run for a year, assuming no major maintenance that required non-warranty expenses and no new tires.

What I did was look at how long the Prius would take to pay for itself when compared to each gas engine, just through the MPG/mileage savings alone. What I discovered was that the shortest time period it took for the gas savings to cover the difference in the car prices was a year and a half. (Oddly enough, you would expect the stortest time period to be for the lowest priced car, the Scion, but it wasn’t. It was #2. The Civic was first because the mileage rating was better.)

The problem came in at the 5 year mark when the Prius for us would hit 150,000 miles. We had been told by several dealers and separately verified this online, that the hybrid’s battery system would need to be replaced over time, starting somewhere around 75,000 to 100,000 miles and probably the entire unit would need to be replaced by the time we got to 150,000 miles or so. See this artidle for info. You’ll note that they are saying 8-10 years but you have to factor in the idea that the average driver only puts around 10-15,000 miles or less on their cars each year. We were quoted a price around $3,000 for the Prius, although the new Prius can be replaced one individual battery cell at a time to spread the pain over time.

Honda’s warranty on the batteries is 8 years or 80,000 miles and internet forums on Insights report instances of battery replacement at 72,000 miles and lower. Toyota’s warranty is 8 years and 100,000 miles, slightly better. That’s just not enough. I know the techmology is good (and if money didn’t matter and I was rich, that would be one thing) and I believe in making cars more fuel efficient, but I can’t justify dropping hard-earned money on a car that’s that much more expensive to maintain.

And don’t even get me started about calling a hybrid that gets 25 miles a gallon “fuel efficient.”

EPA mileage ratings

I realize that a big function that our government fulfills is to protect us, especially from the thieves and knaves out there, but I think that the mileage ratings that the government puts on automobiles protects the auto industry substantially more than the citizens.

Consider the methodology they use to come up with the ratings. There’s some stop and go driving like people in a major metropollitan area, such as Manhattan or downtown Chicago, would do and then there’s interstate driving, which a lot of us also do. However, there probably aren’t that many people who do a lot of inner major city driving once you get outside of New York, Chicago, D.C, or Boston because most of the rest of the big cities (LA, Houston, Dallas, Denver, etc. are lots more spread out than the Northeast.

And the interstate driving in the EPA test is done at 48 miles an hour. Where I’m from, people going that slow may be legally allowed on the interstates but the rest of the drivers certainly wouldn’t tolerate them for long – they’d get rapidly run off the road. So the result is that lots of vehocles can claim they get over 30 miles a gallon, when they’d have to be coasting downhill to get 25 MPG. The Consumer Reports people do a more realistic estimate and their reports show barely more than a handful of conventional cars getting over 30 on the highway.

None of the top 5 are made in the US, I’m ashamed to say. We all know it’s possible but there’s a higher profit margin and -despite prices for fuel that have gone over $3 a gallon – a higher demand for SUV types. Only the Ford Escape Hybrid is rated 33 city/29 highway MPG, and that’s the EPA rating. And that brings up something else. Although the fuel economy ratings are off, city mileage for most hybrids are way off. Consumer Reports obtained 22 in the city and 29 highway – not bad but it is a 4 cylinder SUV, after all. But the EPA city mileage was off by 1/3.

Is beauty the new usability attribute?

Aside from the question of whether aesthetics can be analyzed, there is an interesting article on the Human Factors International site on this sublect. Interesting though it may be, it fails to approach what I see as the most important aspect. Does a completly usable site that is unattractive get used as much as a well-designed and attractive site with a similar level of usability? I think not. I believe that design and usability have to go hand in hand or we have failed the users.