Hybrid Vehicle Technology and Trends

Hybrid options are broadening in more vehicle classes and styles

Sonoma County, CA, should be known for not only its world-class wines, but also for the world-class management of the county government’s fleet. Under the leadership of Dave Head, fleet manager, and Dave Worthington, assistant fleet manager, Sonoma County has been using hybrid cars for over a decade and has found that its total operating costs of hybrids is, on average, about half of the total operating cost of a conventional gasoline counterpart. The two are convinced that choosing a hybrid car over a conventional one is a no brainer.

In addition to very significant savings resulting from lower fuel costs and fewer oil changes, Sonoma County also reports that it has not yet needed to perform a brake replacement job on one of its hybrids.

Sonoma County typically sells its cars after 75,000 to 80,000 miles because at that point in a car’s life, maintenance costs often increase significantly. For most conventional cars, at that point in its life, one or two brake replacements would have been necessary. This is probably a savings of $1,000, or close to 25 percent of the incremental cost of a hybrid.


The Sonoma County team is also finding that their hybrid cars have a significantly higher resale value than their gasoline counterparts. The following is a direct quote from the Kelly Blue Book (a vehicle valuation and information source) website that is representative of what we are seeing about the entire class: “As for resale, the Camry Hybrid is expected to retain an excellent five-year residual value, better than any of its gasoline powered brothers.”

In fact, the entire incremental purchase cost of a hybrid is often completely captured at the time of resale. In other words, the extra amount per car that a fleet initially pays for a hybrid over its gasoline equivalent can be almost entirely offset by the higher resale value of the hybrid.

When hybrids were originally offered for sale at the beginning of this century, there was some concern about their resale value because the technology was new and there was little life cycle history on battery packs. After 13 years of operations, we now know that the hybrid battery packs are robust and often last as long as the car itself.

This knowledge is a large contributor to the impressive resale values of hybrids.


Some fleets, unfortunately, are showing they can be pretty good at reducing the amount of cost savings from a hybrid. In particular, I want to single out some cities where hybrid taxis are mandated. The drivers seem to be either untrained or completely unmotivated to take advantage of the fuel saving capability of a hybrid.

Good driver training programs do make an enormous difference and can help fleets utilize the full potential of a hybrid technology. Some fleets have reported improvements of 30 percent as a result of good training programs.

I see this in my own family fleet, where the fuel economy of the car when driven by the 50 something father is at least 30 percent better than when driven by the lead-footed teenage son.


The potential to do even more with hybrids has expanded in the last three years with the inclusion of extended range electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV). The table (above, right), PHEV/EV U.S. Market, shows a strong upward trend in sales of plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles (EV). The primary vehicles causing this positive growth trend are the Chevy Volt and the Toyota Plug-in Prius.

With plug-in hybrids, fleets can further reduce their exposure to the volatile world oil market by powering their vehicles from the electricity grid. The price for electricity is far more stable and easier to predict and build a business case around than oil.

In addition, though the carbon intensity of the grid varies throughout the country, it is almost always better for the environment to power a car by the grid than by oil.

Plug-in hybrids create an opportunity for fleets to go a step further to manage their transportation energy and control their own fates. Through an on-site distributed source of energy - be it from a fuel cell, a natural gas turbine, a windmill or solar panels - fleet consumers can achieve more energy independence.

At CALSTART’s headquarters in Pasadena, CA, we installed an 84 kw solar system in June of 2012. This leased system did not require any upfront investment and should pay for itself within 10 years.

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