Hybrid controversy? Surely not

Popular Mechanics straddles the fence on the hybrid culture war.

Published February 1, 2006 11:46PM (EST)

"Hybrids at the Crossroads," blares the headline from the February issue of Popular Mechanics. "Sales are growing, but so is the controversy. Do gas/electric hybrid vehicles really deliver on their promises? PM puts hybrid hype to the test."

Believe me, How the World Works knows all about juicing up headlines to spark reader interest. But given the rather mild, "hybrids are not everything they are cracked up to be but are still pretty good cars" observations that are actually made in the article, the "controversy" teaser is a bit overblown. If they'd wanted to, the editors of Popular Mechanics could have delivered a lot more sizzle.

Take, for example, the ever-popular hybrid battery brouhaha. Critics of hybrids have long been quick to suggest that hybrid batteries might not only be really expensive to replace eight to 10 years down the line, but might also present serious environmental disposal problems. You'd imagine a gearhead mag like Popular Mechanics would take a hard look at the question, but they just wave it away with a couple of quotes from Toyota:

"Currently, all hybrids use nickel-metal-hydride batteries that share a California-mandated 10-year/150,000-mile warranty covering the hybrid drivetrain. Carmakers say they're not worried about big replacement costs down the road. According to Dave Hermance, executive engineer at Toyota's Advanced Technology Vehicles, 'The batteries should last for the life of the vehicle.' On an environmental note, he predicts that the high value of the nickel used in the batteries will ensure that batteries that are replaced get recycled."

As for mileage, the article does a good job of explaining why EPA ratings are highly suspect, but then notes that most hybrids still do pretty well. And in conclusion, all bases get covered: "Hybrids are not the stuff of magic. Nor are they mere snake oil."

Glad that's settled.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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