Op-ed: Hybrid Withdrawal

Monday, December 6, 2010
by Ken Fuirst

Many people have experienced the enjoyment of purchasing a hybrid car.  But I think I am one of the few who have left the eco-friendly life style of driving a hybrid and returned to the standard gas-guzzling car.  And let me warn you, the adjustment is a lot harder leaving the hybrid world than it was joining it!

There were multiple factors that motivated me to purchase my Toyota Camry hybrid in 2007.  First I had my environmentally brainwashed children insisting that I only consider a hybrid.  Then there was the underlying feeling that increasing foreign oil consumption only “fuels” the Mid-East problems.  And lastly, although I did not do a present value analysis to determine how many miles I would have to drive to justify the premium I was paying for a hybrid car, I did believe that the more hybrids sold, the quicker the pricing would drop and the more people would be enticed into choosing a hybrid.  So I went for it.

Life with a hybrid

For those of you that do not own a hybrid, let me share with you what I experienced three years ago.  The first thing I noticed was that with a full tank of gas, the fuel diagnostic reads “450 miles” until empty.  450 miles!  That could mean weeks before I needed to visit Owen at the Mobil station.  I wondered if I would still recognize him.  Then there were the dashboard graphs showing my average fuel consumption of 32 mpg.  Very impressive!  And of course there were times when I was getting 40 mpg.  But averaging 32 is still not too bad.

But now let’s fast forward to three years later when it is time to get a new car. I shop around for a luxury hybrid sedan.  However, there are no good options.  Sure you can pay a significant amount of money and get a high end Lexus or a SUV hybrid.  But in both cases, the mileage is not impressive.

Life without a hybrid

Finally, after weighing the various cars in the marketplace, I sell my soul and rationalize that there is not much difference between a 32-mpg hybrid and a standard car whose sticker shows 23 mpg.  Can 9 mpg be that significant a difference?

Guess what.  It’s a huge difference.  First off, I forgot that I was comparing my actual real-life 32 mpg to a sticker/ideal projection/track conditioned/wind at your back 23 mpg.  The actual average fuel consumption according to my new car’s computer turns out to be 18 mpg.  Ok, so that is still only 14-mpg difference.  How big of an impact could that be?  Well, it is tremendous.  That means I am filling my tank up almost twice as many times as before.  Now I feel like I should move in with Owen!

But the worst part of all of this is the fuel gauge.  With my hybrid, the gauge didn’t really seem to move until my tank was half empty.  My new car’s gauge is more “accurate” and the gauge immediately starts going down as I leave the gas station.  It is as though it is mocking me.  And now that it is in my head, I can’t take my eyes off the plummeting fuel gauge. 
So now, when you see me filling up at the Mobil station every morning, and you see me glaring at the gas pump, you should understand that I am not counting how much gas I have consumed.  I am counting down the remaining months of my lease, so I can return to the hybrid world.

Ken Fuirst, president of the local insurance agency, Levitt-Fuirst, has lived in New Castle for 17 years with his wife Sue.  They have three children: Matt, Ethan and Abby.

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