In Which I Become Idiosyncratically Angry At Auto Journalists And Their Continued Ignorance

February 6th, 2012 by Potato

Another idiodic piece about hybrids in the press. It never fails that they say such inflammatorily stupid things that I get all angry at them. It shouldn’t be all that surprising: you don’t become an automotive journalist because you’re smart or know science or can do basic math, you do it because you like G-forces and want to make engine noises all day. You crave the open road and have an expense account for gas. The typical automotive journalist is about as far from a hybrid buyer as one could possibly get.

But for people who are stuck in stop-and-go and pay for their own gas, a fuel-efficient hybrid is a great choice.

Asking “why carry around the battery on the highway” is like asking “why carry around gears 1-5+R if I’m only going to use 6th on the highway?” except even dumber. If you bother to look up the ratings, you’ll see that not only is the Prius efficient in the city, it is also head-and-shoulders above any gasser on the highway — even diesels. Holy crap, it even beats out the tiny Smart Fortwo by almost 20%. There might just be something to this hybrid thing. I could go into the why of it*, but the point is it’s an extremely easy fact to check, yet I’ve seen these assclowns get it wrong so. many. times.

And if you’re a travelling salesman? Then a hybrid should be the only thing on your shopping list. With a lot of miles to put on, you’ll find the payback to be phenomenal. Ditto taxi drivers, who have found it’s cheaper to get a brand new Prius than a surplus former police cruiser Crown Vic.

“So hybrids, apart from their benefit for city drivers, have failed to sweep the world. Will anything change this pattern?”

Perhaps if instead of panning them at nearly every opportunity, if auto journalists actually came out and started writing some articles more along the lines of “well, the ride’s ok, I guess, and by paying a few thousand more up-front, you’ll save thousands in fuel expenses over the life of the car. If you do a lot of city commuting, or a tonne of driving in general like a travelling salesman, you should take a look.” Then maybe people might buy.

And on the heels of that ill-informed article, this diesel-scented turd.

“Diesel fuel should be taxed at a lower rate than gasoline for one simple reason: the fuel carries more energy than a comparable amount of gasoline, thus it is more efficient.”

Actually, that’s a good argument for diesel to be taxed more on a per-litre basis, since it’s using more barrels of oil per litre to make. But, the fact is, diesel is taxed less than gasoline: the federal excise tax is 10 cents/L on gasoline, and 4 cents/L on diesel. In Ontario, the provincial excise tax on gasoline is 14.7 vs 14.3 cents/L on diesel fuel.

“The fuel-efficient turbodiesel delivers the highway fuel economy of a Toyota Camry sedan.”

…without accounting for the higher energy density of diesel, and allowing for a very large fudge factor (using the V6 Camry vs the more popular V4, and even then, he’s off by over 6%; off by over 21% when comparing to the 4-cylinder).

Now, I’m not totally against diesel: it is more efficient than gas in many driving conditions (though not more efficient than a hybrid, and with about the same cost premium). A select few models will end up being cheaper over their lifetime than a conventional gas car. But it is a dirtier fuel, and one of the benefits of hybrids is reduced emissions as well as efficiency: diesel presents a trade-off (better efficiency but higher emissions). I simply don’t get the auto-journalists’ thinking of “diesel good, saves money and fun; hybrid bad, costs more up front” when it could have just as easily been the opposite. I suppose it’s their pre-existing bias towards diesel (more torque, grunt grunt grunt). It seems so arbitrary since those positions could easily be reversed (“The diesel Touareg is $5000 more than the gas version, a premium that would take over twenty years to break-even on.” “There is hardly any difference in fuel economy in city cycle driving, and with diesel fuel a bit more expensive than regular unleaded, there’s no point if you do anything but cruise the open road.” “The new emissions systems for them are completely untested, and with so few VW diesels on the road, good luck finding a mechanic if you run into a problem down the road.” “The AdBlu emissions control additive will need to be replaced frequently, and VW is very secretive about the pricing. Unverified rumours we are too lazy to fact check indicate that this could cost you an additional $5000 down the road.” “Diesel: fine for early adopters, but not ready for primetime.”)

* – Because the engine is more efficient. Atkinson cycle, yadda yadda yadda. And that is because the battery and motors are there for peak demand. Even on the highway they are used (e.g., to pass, or go uphill). It’s a far cry from dead weight — and even if it is, well, the numbers speak for themselves.

2 Responses to “In Which I Become Idiosyncratically Angry At Auto Journalists And Their Continued Ignorance”

  1. Alex C Says:

    If I become an automotive journalist I can make engine noises all day? Damn, that is tempting. When I do it in my lab job people just look at me funny or make jokes……..

    nice rant, do you have an approximation based on your driving habits for the break even point for your prius? I know it is hard to tell for gas prices and electricity prices, but I think you could make a reasonable estimate.

  2. Potato Says:

    It’s a little tough because at the time I bought it was a bit of a better deal (there was still the provincial rebate, and on top of that big discounts on Priuses after the accelerator pedal snafu), but I basically save about 3.5 L/100 km in real-world mileage terms. At $1.20/L, and 17,000 km/year, that’s about $700 saved per year. The initial difference was about $4,400; it would take just over 6 years to make that back, and then I’d save that much all over again in the next 6.

    And of course the whole litany of ifs: if gas prices go up, that makes the hybrid decision even easier; if I do more city driving, or more total driving; etc.