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Hybrid Electric Vehicles: How They Perform in the Real World

October 5, 2009 - 11:27am

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One advantage of working on a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) support team is that I'm exposed to the impressive work DOE is doing to develop and promote advanced energy technologies. I'm particularly impressed with the data DOE has gathered as part of the Advanced Vehicle Testing Activity (AVTA) on many of the makes and models of hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs) commercially available in the United States. The AVTA works with government, commercial, and industry fleets to measure real-world vehicle performance of production and pre-production advanced technology vehicles and makes this information available to fleets and the general public.

As I'm writing this, there are 14 different makes, models, and generations of U.S. and foreign hybrid vehicles, covering cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs.

There's always a risk in buying something containing new technology. Rumors abound, both good and bad. That's certainly true about hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs). In the green arena, you might say that my wife and I are early adopters. We bought our first hybrid car in October 2001, a little more than a year after it was imported into the United States. I knew it wasn't a new, unproven technology, since a similar model was in production and successfully driven on Japanese streets for about a half dozen years prior to our purchase.

We bought our second hybrid, a 2006 model, more than 5 years later. Moreover, for the past 7 years I've been organizing and staging a Green Transportation Rally in my local Labor Day Parade, and I recruit a lot of the local hybrid owners to take part in the rally. You might say that I'm quite familiar with hybrid vehicles. People are always quizzing me to try to find out what's true and what isn't about hybrids. Some questions I'm often asked:

  • Isn't the hybrid sluggish, lacking adequate acceleration?
  • Will it reach highway speeds?

Find out the answers to these and other similar questions on the specific HEV makes and models you're interested in by checking out these AVTA fact sheets.

  • Does such and such model really achieve 50 miles per gallon (MPG) in real life driving?
  • Does such and such model really only achieve a few miles per gallon better gas mileage than a comparable standard gasoline model?

Find out the actual measured average fuel consumption of one or two vehicles of a specific make and model driven tens of thousands of miles (or in some cases, more than a hundred thousand miles) by reviewing the AVTA Accelerated Reliability and Fleet Results.

Then, one major hurdle keeping many consumers from buying a hybrid is revealed by this often-asked question:

  • Won't it cost much more to maintain an HEV compared to maintaining a conventional gasoline vehicle, erasing the fuel savings the HEV provides?

Examine the AVTA Maintenance History reports and you'll discover every single maintenance item that had to be performed, and its cost, for a specific hybrid car or truck that was operated and tracked over the course of the study.

The AVTA tests produce unbiased information about vehicles with advanced transportation technologies—quite a nice complement to Consumer Reports.

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