2010 Lexus HS 250h
2010 Lexus HS 250h. Click image to enlarge
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By Haney Louka

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2010 Lexus HS 250h

Winnipeg, Manitoba – I consider myself to be an open-minded individual. I’m always up for trying new foods and I make a point of not making decisions until all available information is considered. I take the same approach when something new comes along in the automotive industry. Whether it’s a new model or a completely different technology, I like to put cars through their paces before deciding whether to point my thumbs up toward the sky or straight down to the ground.

That’s why hybrid technology has been such a stumbling block for me. In the automotive market, the word “hybrid” is not just a technology. For many it stands for the future of personal transportation; an environmentally responsible and sustainable — and essential — part of our future.

That’s all fine, except that I’m still looking for the proverbial proof in the pudding. Hybrids manage to perform extremely well in official government-approved fuel consumption testing, allowing their manufacturers to post these promising numbers on the window stickers to attract customers. But while the official numbers are attractive, they rarely come to fruition in the real world. Sure, we’ve been told countless times that these laboratory-generated figures are not intended to be duplicated on the street; rather, they are designed to provide buyers with scientific, comparative numbers, a level playing field devoid of such factors as weather, traffic conditions, and driving style.

2010 Lexus HS 250h
2010 Lexus HS 250h; photo by Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

But my hypothesis is that the advantage hybrids gain in the laboratory relative to conventional gas-only vehicles doesn’t translate well in the field. In other words, a 30 per cent lower consumption assigned to a hybrid compared with a conventional car might be reduced to 15 or 20 per cent in your daily commute, making it more difficult to justify the cost premium associated with buying a hybrid. I’ll be working with Natural Resources Canada, the federal body that regulates fuel consumption testing, to find out if there are any inherent aspects of the test that gives these hybrids a leg up on the official consumption ratings.

The purchase of a hybrid vehicle is at least a bit more palatable here in Manitoba where buyers of hybrids can apply for a $2,000 rebate—one of the most appealing incentives in the country—through the province’s Climate and Green Initiatives program. The federal EcoAUTO rebate ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 for certain fuel-efficient vehicles ended last March. While other provinces have their own incentives ranging from nothing to $2,000 tax rebates, we won’t get into the details here. Check out your provincial government’s web site for the most current information.

2010 Lexus HS 250h
2010 Lexus HS 250h. Click image to enlarge

Those who want to sell you a hybrid will say that it’s less about the payback and more about giving customers options so that they can make more environmentally responsible decisions. Buy a hybrid, save the planet. Or at least be a part of the solution rather than contributing to the problem.

One issue that has stuck with me ever since I drove a hybrid version of Toyota’s Highlander crossover back in the winter of 2006 is the question of how suitable these vehicles really are in our harsh Canadian climate. Our winter weather can wreak havoc on not only battery performance but also on the length of time it takes the engine to reach operating temperature so that the hybrid system can operate as designed. These factors all conspire against a hybrid automobile’s abilities to fulfill its green promise of lower fuel consumption.

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