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Waaah, waaah! They're offering hybrid owners teeeeeenie weeeeenie tax breaks. Plus, we get to drive in the carpool lanes and park free in the city of Los Angeles! (Naturally, the complaint about perks to hybrid owners in the LA Times by Irvine's Lisa Margonelli only mentions the free parking out of town, in San Jose.) Here's more of her plaintive cry against hybrid "goodie bags":

IF I'D BOUGHT a Toyota Prius on Jan. 1, I could collect a $3,150 tax credit from the federal government, use carpool lanes in California, park for free in San Jose and receive a 10% break on insurance from St. Paul Travelers. But are dazzling goodie bags for hybrid-vehicle owners the best way to conserve energy — and thereby cut gas prices — in California?

Hybrids show that gas conservation can be kick-started by a coalition of the willing. But two things about drivers of hybrids stand out: They usually make more than $100,000 a year, and they drive less than average drivers. What's more, California has more hybrid cars than any other state and, as of Jan. 4, it had only 80,580 registered — out of 33 million vehicles on the road.

Subsidies for hybrids reward a few well-off drivers but don't do much for the rest of us who try to conserve gas.

Consider the irony. If I spent $10,000 to $12,000 on a 2005 Toyota Echo, which gets 35 miles per gallon in the city and 42 mpg on the highway, I'd get better gas mileage than seven of the 11 hybrids eligible for federal tax rebates.

So imagine if the impulse to reward gas savers were extended to the average person. If California forgave new vehicle registration taxes for cars getting more than 30 mpg, we'd all benefit.

Imagine the impulse to stop buying SUVs -- if the idiots we elect to run our country weren't doling out $25,000 tax breaks to small business owners who buy battleships on wheels. Who pays the cost to our residential streets of 6,000 lb. vehicles tooling around. Oh, well, that would be us -- as in, the rest of us. Isn't that special?

FYI, for my Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle, the 2004 Honda Insight, 1900 lbs, and 66mpg hwy, I got a $2,000 tax break.

Posted by aalkon at February 20, 2006 11:05 AM

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See Kaus about this:

Posted by: Crid at February 20, 2006 2:22 AM

Saw that this weekend. I prefer eco-pretentious people who don't suck more resources than their fair share to those who don't give a crap about how greedy and polluting they look in their Ford Explosions.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 20, 2006 5:12 AM

Still wondering what Americans will do with hundreds of thousands of main propulsion batteries from their hybrids. I haven't looked into it. Has anyone else?

Posted by: Radwaste at February 20, 2006 7:12 AM

According to a family member who is far more knowledgeable about these things that I, batteries (including those in hybrid cars) are one of the most recyclable things produced today.

Posted by: deja pseu at February 20, 2006 7:24 AM

Another quibble: No one will ever, ever know what their "fair share" of the world's resources is.

Posted by: Crid at February 20, 2006 10:43 AM

I'm kind of keen on giving tax breaks to people who buy cars that show MPG over 30, hybrid or not.

...said the Toyota Echo owner. (42 highway MPG in the summer with the AC on)

Posted by: Deirdre B. at February 20, 2006 7:58 PM

EPA ratings for the Insight are 57/56. Are you actually getting
66 mpg on a long-term basis?

Posted by: Ron at February 21, 2006 4:18 AM 2001 wrangler get 22 mpg, at best. But it's the ultimate driving machine...I love it.

Posted by: Mad Hungarian at February 21, 2006 5:39 AM

I get 66 or 67 on the highway if there isn't a lot of traffic (like when I drove to Palm Springs). In town I get less. Depends on whether I'm stuck in traffic or not. Others on the Insight site get much more, especially with the manual transmission (never learned to drive a manual, physically dyslexic...the person somebody will say to, "No, raise your other right arm").

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 21, 2006 5:39 AM

That just sickens me

Posted by: Mad Hungarian at February 21, 2006 7:54 AM

Hey, all of those people with big cars are paying extra, in the depreciation accelerated by fuel bills. You might be able to get a mint 2006 Explosion for pennies when gas is $6/gallon - what it is right now in the UK, I'm told.

I'm still looking for someone to tell me where the hybrids' NiMH batteries are going after they die. Nothing like metal poisoning for the fishies!

Posted by: Radwaste at February 22, 2006 4:56 PM

That's a good question, Rad -- for both the battery in my car (if you see the size of my car, it can't be all that large!) and for the NiMH batteries we use in our laptops and other devices. Is anybody doing any work on that? It's really important, I think, to try to be as careful as possible about resources. I learn a lot from the way the French are. You go into a hallway of a building and the lights are not on 24/7; you have to push a button at the entrance so they turn on. You don't see people taking a pile of napkins there. You get one napkin.

What people who drive those big vehicles aren't paying for is the deterioration of our roads. 1900 lbs vs. 6,000 lbs. Ouch.

PS Something you may not know about my car: It shuts off at lights. Motor off. Totally. If the radio's on it'll stay on, powered by the battery, I think. And you can program your AC or heat so it stays on when you're stopped, but I generally leave mine on auto-stop -- so it shuts off when my car stops -- if I have it on at all. (You get a hybrid and you get into a mileage game with yourself. I hate taking my car to the car wash because it kills my averages!)

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 22, 2006 5:24 PM

I have read a bit about the hybrids; what the sellers don't tell you about the car is as fascinating to me as what they do say.

You may find it interesting to consider that Eisenhower could have set us all up for this. A deal with the Teamsters took us into the world of Interstates and car travel - at the expense of rail.

Posted by: Radwaste at February 23, 2006 4:50 PM

Maybe we hybrid buyers are all on the wealthy side of middle class. Clearly most of us at the moment are not driving hybrids purely for the gas savings (although after one year of a gas guzzling Ford Escape Hybrid AWD - 27 actual mpg (32mpg if I drive like me dead grandmother!) I will break even at least). Remember though that my (full) hybrid SUV produces much less pollution around town than your 'more fuel efficient' conventional sedan. It's not only about CO2.

Every consumer product needs early adopters in order to hit the mainstream. The more 'normal' hybrids seem on the road, the lower the barrier to greater adoption. Perhaps it even helps if the people seen driving them are aspirational market leaders. If some 'unfair' incentives over non hybrid vehicles that provide comparable fuel economy helps tip a few more people into driving hybrids, then that will expand the market, help bring down prices, and increase the incentives to motor manufacturers to further improve hybrid technology as the competitive market expands.

Market demand may look high now (with high premiums and long waiting lists) but it is not high enough yet - the apparent profits to manufacturers need to be high enough to drive investment in manufacturing capacity, so in turn competition can drive prices to a lower equilibrium. You need to climb the hill before you can enjoy the ride into the valley! In the final analysis consumers will (always) pay what they perceive as the value of what they are buying - and we don't just value 'fuel savings' - we value environmental benefits, and we value signals that we are sending to the rest of the market.

So don't begrudge tax or other incentives for hybrids. Going hybrid is the first step on a journey towards cleaner and more efficient vehicles - ultimately perhaps 'pure electric'. The auto industry will never invest in the downstream technologies unless we the consumers lead them by the nose through these intermediate stages.


Posted by: PeterH at March 3, 2006 8:14 PM

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