Sustainability Allusion, Societal Marketing, and the Environmental Footprint of Hybrid Autos

Authored by: Christopher S Wright , Alex Kouznetsov , Sarah Kim

Sustainability in the Mineral and Energy Sectors

Print publication date:  September  2016
Online publication date:  September  2016

Print ISBN: 9781498733021
eBook ISBN: 9781315369853
Adobe ISBN:


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Those seeking to tread lightly on this good earth are encouraged, via societal marketing, to achieve that worthy goal by replacing their carbon-belching petrol autos with hybrid autos. The idea is that hybrid autos gain efficiencies-of-scope by combining the best aspects of petrol and electric motors. However, while the hybrid auto design may have been intended by auto manufacturers to be an efficient and elegant interim response to rising environmental concerns and the need for alternative-energy transportation, the hybrid reality may be much less propitious. Specifically, a strong and rising body of literature suggests that hybrid autos tend to involve so many trade-offs (in technology, safety, materials and efficiency) that they (for the moment) fall short of a viable, efficient and sustainable solution. Specifically, literature, product reviews and other analysis clearly show that (when a pairwise comparison of hybrid autos is made with equivalent petrol models) hybridisation of autos appears to deliver little to no significant fuel efficiencies. Further, given the current state of the relevant technologies, much of the vaunted efficiencies of hybrid autos should (ceteris paribus) be overwhelmed by significant increases in vehicle curb weight arising from an extra engine/generator, large battery packs, four regenerative braking mechanisms to recapture braking energy and the added circuit breakers/fuses and other advanced electronics needed for the electric- and/or charging-phase of hybrid autos. While these added items are becoming ever more efficient, it is unlikely that they are sufficiently efficient to deliver their services at the reported relatively small or negative weight differentials. One way to achieve these efficiencies is via a lightening of the auto (via reduced fuel tanks, smaller tyres, lighter materials, lighter seats, dashes, insulation/coatings, etc.) that are neither unique to hybrid autos nor are precluded from being done to petrol autos. However, these changes are not widely adopted in non-hybrid autos because consumers tend to object to the way such changes can also inflate an auto’s cost and/or increase wear and tear and/or reduce the comfort of the ride, the quality of handling of the car and occupant safety in an accident.

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