Hybrid Debate Revs Up
Peter Fairley’s article was over-enthusiastic about the economic value of hybrid cars (“Hybrids’ Rising Sun,” TR April 2004). He claims that switching to a hybrid car would save, on average, $5,000. This assumes, however, that the conventional car gets only 24 miles per gallon and that an owner would keep the same car for 15 years. But most Americans keep a car much less than that, and many gas-engine cars get more than 24 miles per gallon. The Toyota Corolla, which is about the same size as the Prius and has better performance, is priced $6,000 lower and consumes only about $400 per year more in fuel. You’d have to own a Prius for 15 years to break even. After a typical three- to four-year ownership, the Prius owner would still be deep in the hole compared to the Corolla owner.
I agree with Robert Buderi’s article “Finally, My Last Conventional Car” (TR April 2004). I bought my first hybrid last year. However, I would like to call attention to the line where he cites Toyota’s and Honda’s production records and plans for hundreds of thousands of hybrids on the road, and then lumps in General Motors’ intent to be able to “build as many as one million hybrids by 2007.” Toyota and Honda have a track record to back up their claims, but we should wait until GM does, too, before quoting their numbers in the same context. When I went to the Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT last September, Larry Burns, GM’s vice president for R&D and planning, talked about GM’s proposed fuel cell car to be released in 2010. But the technological hurdles that he mentioned all required improvements of at least a factor of 10. Burns also said that Toyota sold approximately 100,000 hybrid Priuses in 2003, a total that he dismissed as “insignificant.” When he talks about GM’s R&D on hybrids, he means the company’s effort to give hybrid pickups and SUVs 20 percent better mileage-around 20 miles per gallon, a far cry from a mid-sized Toyota Prius that can get triple that mileage.
Peter Fairley is one of the few journalists who seem to grasp how significant the hybrid is to the future of automobiles. Unfortunately, U.S.-based manufacturers have chosen to concentrate on fuel cells, which, when compared to advanced hybrids, look less and less affordable.
Robert J. Templin
I was disappointed that your article on hybrid cars didn’t address the battery side of the issue. Do the nickel-metal-hydride batteries in the Prius last for the car’s purported 15-year lifetime? If not, who pays how much to replace them? And when the car reaches retirement, what is the environmental impact of disposing of (or refurbishing) the batteries? Does Toyota have an infrastructure for this in place? I’d like to know how well the environmental-impact circle closes.
Running with Servers
Simson Garfinkel’s column “Home Is Where the Server Is” (TR April 2004) is misleading and strains credibility. Getting a high-speed connection from your local cable or DSL provider is one thing; getting one that has a fixed IP address suitable for e-mail and Web servers is something else entirely. And while Garfinkel suggests that a server can be had for $400, his own system appears to cost over $1,500. It’s true that a burglar is unlikely to steal a server, but there are other ways to lose data: it is a lot easier to run out of a burning house with a laptop with 60 gigabytes’ worth of data and memories than a rack-mounted server.
Simson Garfinkel responds: When I wrote the article, Speakeasy was offering a static IP address for $39.95 with DSL. Even with a dynamic IP address, you can use dynamic DNS to get a fixed name, which is what really matters. As for the cost: I put together a Linux system using a $399 Dell computer with 256 megabytes of memory and 60 gigabytes of disk space. There are, of course, many ways to lose data; that’s why I do off-site backups every night.