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Author: mschmit Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: of 701  
Subject: Re: Hybrids are patriotic Date: 4/18/2005 7:25 PM
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Personally, I think the hybrids are merely a stepping-stone technology. Cleaner, even more efficient vehicles are coming (hopefully from American firms) and my Prius should be nearing 100,000 miles when that happens, and I'll move on.

This seems to be a popular opinion...but I think it is false. Unless you plan of taking many many years to get to 100K miles. Here's my thinking...

The possible candidates are hydrogen fuel cell cars, hydrogen burning engines and electric cars. The only other possibility is some type of hybrid variant which is actually highly likely.

There are two main problems with hydrogen. First, there is no energy efficient source of hydrogen that doesn't use fossil fuels and is cleaner than a hybrid. The physics of this isn't going to change, ever, and there almost no chance of some sudden scientific breakthrough that will be cheap and instantly engineered into a car in the next 5 or 10 years. Hydrogen from a clean source, such as electrolysis will cost the same as $5.00 or $10.00 gasoline.

Second is the small problem of the cost of fuel cells. No one knows how to make them cheaper than the cost of an entire luxury car today. Ten times cheaper isn't even good enough. It isn't just a matter of mass production. The raw materials still are expensive. 5 or 10 years of enginerrin tweaks isn't going to lower the cost of materials...a whole new approach is needed. And mass production will actually cause the cost of the rare materials to go up.

If a fuel cell car is going to cost $50K - 100K why not just make a electrical vehicle with lots of batteries? The motors are already cheap enough, the only thing holding us back is the battery energy storage. The problem is range and recharge time. You can't drive an EV 500 miles in a day even if you stop to refuel because it takes longer than 5 minutes to recharge.

This is when the hybrid comes in. As batteries get better and cheaper over the next ten years, partially due to lots of sales due to mass production of existing hybrids, the distance you can go on battery-only will go up and up. (Already some guys are selling converions for a Prius that have 5x or 10x the battery capacity.) So you recharge at night and drive battery only to work, maybe you need to use gas to get home at night. Eventually the technology improves and people realize for their second (or city-only) vehicle they never need gas, then they'll make the mental leap that allows them to buy an EV. The long trip/summer trip vehicle will still be a hybrid. This is 5-10 years off...and realistic.

Another reason why fuel cell cars are impractical is that they will have to compete with hybrids in the year 2010 or 2015, not the hybrids of today. Hybrids will get more efficient, more reliable and even less polluting than they are today. The Prius is 90-93% less polluting than the average car today. Do we really need to be much cleaner than that when 30% of emissions come from the dirtiest 1% of vehicles (stat from CARB)?

Summary: If hybrids are merely a stepping stone...they are going to be a very large one.

Mike (drives a 2001 Prius...and my other car is a 2004 Prius)
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