There are many new hybrid, alternative, and electric vehicles out this year. Which one is right for you?
There are at least 60 different ways to buy a new car and call yourself a hybrid owner. Many of these designs are either currently on the market or about to be. Some ubiquitous designs are so frequently mentioned that they almost don't need to be brought up again, like the ever-present Toyota Prius and its Honda step-brother Insight. Some models available have a laughably poor improvement in fuel economy, while there are a myriad of other designs available that incorporate hydrogen, diesel fuel (including biodiesel/cooking oil), ethanol, all-electric, and some combination electric/hybrid designs. There are pros and cons to each of these technologies that you should be aware of before purchasing. While there are certainly advantages to new ideas like hybrids and electrics, some locations are more ideal for different vehicle types than others.
Unconventionally Fueled Vehicles
The Honda FCX Clarity, pictured above, is the first hydrogen-powered vehicle available in the United States. Available constitutes a relatively limited idea which consists of 200 models being leased over the next three years. Clarity is still squarely within the experimental phase of development, and it only has a base of support and maintenance from three dealerships: Power Honda in Costa Mesa, Honda of Santa Monica in Santa Monica, and Scott Robinson Honda in Torrance (all of Southern California). Qualified consumers must live within a given radius of these locations for another reason: there are only a few operating hydrogen fuel stations in the United States (http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-13746_7-10204075-48.html). This brings to light the issue of driving a vehicle with an unconventional fuel type: finding a place to fill up is often impossible. If you are driving a hydrogen-powered vehicle and you don't work for the government, you are probably only going to be able to fill it up in Southern California. If you plan on purchasing a vehicle which utilizes E85 ethanol, then you have a greater amount of options, but you should still be cognisant of your vehicle's proximity to pumping stations. For a good source of E85 fueling locations, visit here: http://www.e85refueling.com/ Another key to remember is that many alternative fuel vehicles are relatively pieces of new technology, and their range is not necessarily equivalent to older, proven vehicles. For example, the ubiquitous Honda Accord can travel about 500-550 miles on a 17 gallon tank, while the new Honda Clarity can only go a maximum of 240 miles.
Remember Your Goals
Whatever type of vehicle you buy, you should remember what you intended to accomplish by purchasing the vehicle. Were you trying to save money, gain some status, or did you just have your heart set on a particular design? If saving money is your goal, then you should consider some of the unknowns of alternative vehicles more carefully before signing your name on the dotted line. The endurance of the hybrid and electric vehicle drivetrains (such as the battery and charging system) is relatively unknown, but Toyota has reported that they have not had to replace a battery in their fuel efficient Prius (barring physical damage such as accidents) since they introduced the vehicle in 2010 (http://www.hybridcars.com/cars.html#battery). It is indicated that the batteries are intended to last "the life of the car", which is supposed to be about 150,000 to 200,000 miles. Another thing is that hybrids are the new kids on the block, and many mechanics don't have an understanding of these vehicles yet, because they introduce complicated new systems that don't work like a normal car. This means that you will probably have to take some expensive trips to the dealer if you have problems.
Notable Hybrid Car Models
Before Toyota received some bad press for poor quality control with regard to some parts, its Prius automobile was taking alternative car market share rapidly from other competing vehicles. The Prius has still had more time than most of the rest of the industry to develop its concept, with the notable exception of the Honda Insight. These two vehicles are the flagship cars, and the ones that consumers normally associate with the hybrid concept. The Prius gets about 50 combined mpg estimated while the Insight gets 41 mpg. Both are relatively affordable and start at $22,400 and $19,800 respectively. The Honda Civic Hybrid has also broken into the hybrid mainstream, and beats out its cousin with a total of 42 mpg. The Ford Escape Hybrid claims the highest SUV mpg with 32, and Hyundai could shortly be coming out with the cheapest hybrid in a Sonata version.
The Road Less Traveled
A lot of consumers have the perception that a hybrid vehicle is an inconvenient and clunky concept, and probably doesn't look very stylish. That perception is being radically altered as hybrid vehicles are becoming mainstream. You need not sacrifice comfort, vehicle size, or passenger capacity to achieve performance like the Tango T600 pictured at top, which can start for an unbelievable over $100,000. There are a number of ways to go hybrid, and you simply need to decide how much of an adventurer you are before seeking out a new car. Consumers should not forget diesels; Volskwagen has some sporty and efficient cars like the Jetta TDI and Golf that get 40 (and many drivers report even above 50) on the highway. Diesel is a proven technology that can last much longer than gasoline engines, even though diesel can often be a bit more expensive at the pump. Also, be sure to check consumer reports before purchasing a new hybrid. There may be some quirks to different cars that annoy some more than others. Hybrids are an emerging vehicle class in the automobile market, and adopting a wait and see approach is not a bad idea, either. New technologies and improvements of existing ones will certainly become available in the near future and make existing cars better and more affordable.