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A Hybrid Experience

As I have mentioned in previous blogs I've long taken an interest in doing better to care for the world around me. I was certain the move toward electric cars was not just a good idea, but essential. Growing up in Calgary I watched it transform from a modest-sized city with plenty of fresh air and clean water into a monster-sized city with brownish-orange coloured air. I railed against the pollution machines that we all found so essential. In order to make a difference I rode my bike to most places when practical. At that time I had never heard of cargo or electric bikes so there were times when a car was the best transportation solution available. Overall I felt riding a bike for several thousand kilometers per year instead of driving was making a difference. I also felt, and still do today, that the move toward electric cars was inevitable.

In 2019 I decided it was time to take a personal step in the right direction and purchase a hybrid to help reduce my carbon footprint. I traded in my full-gas car and came home with an electric car with a built-in gas-powered generator to charge the battery. I quickly learned the range of the battery was oversold and mostly smoke and mirrors. I no longer live in Calgary. Instead, I live in the relatively small and remote community of Alert Bay making the range of a battery a little more important than if I was only needing to commute 10 or 20 kilometres to work each day. Sure most days I only have to drive a few kilometres on the island, but the bulk of my driving (in kilometres) is highway driving the "commutes" and 300-400 kilometres. It turned out that my hybrid's battery was typically good for only 20 kilometres before needing a full charge that took about 2 hours.

After a few years, I became used to the idea that my hybrid was really only a "city vehicle" and that at least it was more fuel-efficient than a traditional full-gas car. A quick search on the internet will reveal that this idea is received wisdom. Today's top search result was from Consumer Reports and they assure readers that hybrids are, on average, 40% more efficient than non-hybrids. (,refuel%20at%20any%20gas%20station.) Using the same search, "Canada Energy Regulator" claims plug-in hybrids (that was my hybrid) are "far more fuel efficient over short trips than long trips." At least they acknowledge the benefits of these vehicles have a range limitation. ( The article also contains some research comparing fuel efficiency of various vehicle types in both hybrid and non-hybrid forms and claim that even over long hauls (400 km) the hybrid has the full-gas vehicle beat. A large number of other articles expound on the benefits of using these vehicles and all claim that the hybrids will use less fuel.

My plug-in hybrid did even better than the average Large SUV published on the Canada Energy Regulator site referenced above. They claim that the fuel consumption is 10.69 L/100km while mine regularly consumed around 8.9 L/100km. both figures are decent and the site fully acknowledges the wide range of variables that can cause anyone's experience to vary from these figures. Sticking with the theme of "hybrid is better" however, the table also shows the full gas model getting 12.75 L/100km. All of the comparisons on the chart show the hybrids doing better than the full-gas models. This has not been my experience. After deciding I did not want to have a hybrid I traded it in for a full gas car. More importantly, I switched to the same model of car as the hybrid and breathed a sigh of relief. No longer did I have to worry about the impending bill of getting a new battery when the current one expired and no longer held sufficient charge to carry me the meagre 20-30 km it was capable of when new. My experiment with hybrids was over and I concluded that these are city vehicles.

What happened next surprised me. I recently drove from Courtenay to Alert Bay in my gas-powered car. When I stopped for a break in Campbell River I looked down at the calculated fuel consumption and found it read 7.9 L/100 km. (Unlike the data on the Canada Energy Regulator's site, which failed to provide road and speed information, my speed was 110 km/hr and the road was an asphalt surface in good condition) I couldn't believe it considering all the hype, and what now seems like misinformation, about hybrids' fuel efficiency. It looked like there weren't any fuel savings garnered from driving a hybrid and that driving it was using more fuel, not less. I had expected the opposite and that the fuel savings were not just helping keep carbon out of the atmosphere but were going to help offset the cost of that new battery one day. It now seemed that the hybrids (at least the one I owned) were potentially putting more carbon in the atmosphere and costing more to run. The next leg of the trip was even better. The run from Campbell River to Port McNeill saw a fuel consumption of 7.5 L/100 km at 95 km/hr on a windy, hilly asphalt road.

While I was very happy to get this kind of mileage it did cause me to question the ultimate effect of our ever-increasing carbon tax. If carbon taxes are to be effective they should make driving a full-gas car more expensive than driving a hybrid. A tax is an economic tool used to incentivize desirable behaviour. Given the data pulled from both cars, I have to think that this carbon tax tells me to ditch hybrids and drive full-gas cars. While I fully acknowledge the experience I have had with these two cars is just a single data point and many other people may have had different experiences (the short-haul drivers come to mind), I am forced to question the rationale for a carbon tax. If my experience is replicable then the carbon tax has no hope of reducing CO2 emissions and and is likely just another excuse to grab more tax dollars to waste on a bloated inefficient (and mostly useless) bureaucracy. I would be interested in hearing from anyone else with either similar or dissimilar experiences.


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