Monday, September 18, 2006

Your tax dollars at work - Manteca buys a hybrid

If you've ever wondered how the government squanders your tax dollars, here's one small example:

Tonight the City Council will decide if they want to buy a new car for the trash collectors. (I'm sorry, the Solid Waste Division, I don't like euphemisms, it makes it sound like there is something wrong with the trash collection service.)

They want to buy a 2007 Ford Escape Hybrid. A hybrid! The standard Ford Escape goes for about $19,320. The hybrid version costs about $26,479. (this is from yahoo auto.)

They list the specs for the regular Ford escape as 24/26 mpg, and for the hybrid version, 36/31. I don't buy into that "city" figure too much. There have been many reports in the press that say that mostly, that "city" figure is not really valid for a hybrid, because the hybrid is sort of tuned to "game the test" and score abnormally high. Which does make sense because of the way hybrids work and the way the test works. (I looked that up a while ago but don't have the data handy right now)

So, lets just consider the highway mileage. Driving for 100,000 miles, the hybrid would use 620 gallons of gasoline less than the regular model. How can that possibly justify spending more than $7,000 more? Just to save 620 gallons? You can figure it out for yourself -- that's a savings of about $1,736 over the whole 100,000 miles. (assuming $2.80/gal). Gasoline would have to be something more than $12.50/gal for the hybrid to "save money" on gasoline.

If you check out that yahoo website and compare the regular version with the hybrid version, you'll see they more or less confirm that the "total cost of ownership" is much higher for the hybrid version, about $37,856 for the regular version and $45,218 for the hybrid!

Again, this makes perfect sense. The hybrid is a complex technology, and expensive to manufacture and repair. In fact those repair costs are something that might be a shock because there isn't that much experience with hybrid.

But someone might argue, the hybrid is "better for the earth!" Isn't that a good enough reason? Well, I'd dispute that and here's why. The price represents the added resources that had to go into the manufacture of the hybrid system. Things like huge batteries, electric motors that convert to generators, a complex drivetrain, etc. All those things use energy to manufacture, and we haven't even gotten into the possible disposal problems with those batteries that are made of toxic metals and other nasty stuff. Just to cut past the technicalities, you can think of the price as a good proxy for the actual resources "from the earth" that the vehicle uses.

So, the fact that it's not "cost effective" is more than just interesting to accountants. The amount the vehicle costs actually represents the added resources used to make the vehicle. In other words, it burns more fossil fuels to make the hybrid than it saves. By that analysis, driving the hybrid harms the earth more than driving the conventional model!

And one more thing, did anyone notice that the great deal Manteca Ford is giving us is a good thousand dollars more than the average MSPR price, according to that yahoo auto website?

We haven't even gotten into why the city needs this extravagant vehicle and what possible mission this vehicle might be needed for, and why a less expensive model wouldn't do?

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