Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has recently announced Toyota will be building hybrid cars in Australia with a healthy incentive from the Australian government. I will be (mostly) keeping away from the issues of hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate welfare given to the car industry by both side of politics, but will look at some of the issues.
The move will be good for local suppliers particularly if locally made batteries are used, hopefully with flow on effects for other battery consumers (the solar industry for example). It will also be good for reducing inner city air pollution. Now those sort of things are great, but what about the big one, the big question? Will hybrid cars make a difference to greenhouse gas output? Will they save the planet?
We like to look at the fuel consumption, the better the fuel consumption the better it is for the planet right? We don't look at the energy that goes in to building these cars in the first place. Cars are built from steel, aluminum, copper, lead (and nickel in the case of hybrids) and petrochemical derived rubber and plastic all of which require mining, transporting and processing going through numerous steps, and consuming large amounts of energy before taking their final form. So how far do you need to drive that new fuel efficient car (or indeed how many times do you need to use that more efficient fridge/dryer/washing machine etc) to have a positive impact? To use less energy overall than just running the old one? In many cases it will probably never happen. If you really want to make an impact, keep your car well serviced, ensure the tyres are at the correct pressure and use it when you need to. Newer isn't necessarily better.
Or alternately get a motorbike, a tenth the resources to build, twice the fuel economy, no parking problems and ten times the fun.
Wired has an article over here.