Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lies Spin Hybrid Battery Undercurrent

I came across a quote the other day attributed to Mark Twain that goes something like this, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” It’s an apt description of what’s been dogging hybrid automobiles and keeping them marginalized.
I realized I needed to say something about this when my wife Susan came home the other day and asked me if it was true that hybrid automobile batteries needed to be replaced every two years at a cost of thousands of dollars.
Well, the simple answer to that question is NO.
This lie about hybrid batteries is a choice bit of misinformation put in motion by the spin doctors of the internal combustion gasoline engine lobby. They are hard at work undermining public confidence in hybrid technology.
Last winter, I first detected there was a bonafide effort afoot in some quarters of the auto industry to sideline the hybrid when a keynote speaker at the Northeast international auto show in Providence took pot shots at hybrid batteries and their disposal.
It was clear his words were meant to create doubts about the future of hybrid technology.
Looks like the spin is working when a humble consumer like my wife, who is considering a hybrid for her next automobile purchase, comes home with sudden second-thoughts.
Before I even address the “two year” part of the lie, consider this. At Toyota all hybrid-specific components on the Prius are guaranteed for at least 8 years or 100,000 miles.
Specifically, here’s what Toyota says: “Prius' hybrid-related components, including the HV battery, battery control module, hybrid control module and inverter with converter, are covered for 8 years/100,000 miles. The HV battery may have longer coverage under emissions warranty.”
You’ll find similar warranties with other hybrid manufacturers.
Regarding the alleged two year lifespan, that might apply if your driving you’re your car to death at the rate of over 50,000 miles a year. But even here there’s anecdotal evidence that a Vancouver taxi driver drove a Prius over 200,000 in 25 months and the batteries still held out strong.
But other than unusual driving like that, the average hybrid driver is likely to get well over seven years use from their batteries.
So much for the two year lie.
The batteries of a hybrid automobile system function a little differently than ordinary rechargeable batteries such as the ones in cell phones. Hybrid batteries never get fully charged or discharged. They operate in the 40 to 60 percent range of charge. This prolongs the useful life for this type of nickel-hydride battery.
In U.S. Department of Energy tests of hybrid batteries, it was determined that although the capacities of the batteries tested had diminished over time, their ability to absorb energy had not degraded even after 160,000 miles of use.
I realize that hybrid technology may not be the ultimate answer to our gas guzzling ways. It is at best a transitional technology. But it is a step in the right direction.
Consumers should be well advised not mislead. There’s a lot a stake both economically and with the environment. Lies are not the way forward.