Vancouver, British Columbia – Government programs that offer rebates to buyers of hybrid vehicles are failing to produce environmental benefits, according to a new study by the University of British Columbia.

The study found that hybrid sales have come largely at the expense of small, relatively fuel-efficient conventional cars, rather than large SUVs, trucks and vans, which produce substantially greater carbon emissions.

“If the intention of rebate programs is to replace gas guzzlers with hybrids, they are failing,” said Ambarish Chandra, co-author of the study, who said that large-vehicle sales have risen steadily since the introduction of hybrid rebates. “People are choosing hybrids over similarly-priced small- and medium-sized conventional cars, which are not far behind hybrids for fuel efficiency and emissions. The reductions in carbon emissions are therefore not great.”

The study also found that the majority of consumers who purchase hybrids were not motivated to do so by government rebates. “Our estimates indicate that two-thirds of people who buy hybrids were going to buy them anyway,” Chandra said. “So for the majority, rebates are not changing behaviour, they are subsidizing planned purchases.”

The study found that Canadian provinces that offer rebates have spent an average of $195 per tonne of carbon saved, or equivalently, 43 cents for every litre of gasoline that a vehicle consumes over its 15-year average life expectancy. Chandra said that governments could garner greater environmental benefits by purchasing carbon offsets, currently priced between $3 and $40 per tonne on carbon markets, or investing in green jobs and technology.

Hybrid rebate programs are currently offered in B.C., Ontario, Quebec, P.E.I. and Manitoba, as well as in 13 states. The Canadian government offered hybrid rebates during 2007-2008. The researchers used vehicle sales data from 1989 to 2006, and said they believe the results extend to the U.S. market, given the similarities between buying patterns, pricing structures and car models.

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