Do hybrids really reduce running costs and give better fuel efficiency?

Hybrid cars are a likely future direction that cars in India will take now that the Government is considering norms for hybrid cars in India. At the moment, there is only the Toyota Prius that’s on sale India at a price point of Rs. 30 lakh that is a true hybrid.

Recently, the Govt said it is considering framing norms to convert existing petrol and diesel cars to petrol-electric and diesel-electric hybrid vehicles. This would achieve two things – one, lower pollution levels in congested cities and two, increase in fuel economy would technically mean savings for the car buyer.  Also read: Govt framing norms for hybrid cars

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How much do you save driving a hybrid?

But by how much do hybrid cars really improve fuel economy and are there any considerable savings when it comes to long-term running costs? That’s something to ponder about.

Although these two cars are not strictly comparable, let’s for a moment put them together to compare notes – given that both cars are imports. Let’s see how a Toyota Prius compares with an entry-level Audi A4 1.8 petrol, both priced around Rs. 29 lakh.

The Toyota Prius is powered by a 1.8 litre petrol engine that puts out 98 bhp of power, coupled with a 35 bhp electric motor, making the car good for a total power output of 134 bhp. The Prius “hybrid synergy drive” system can power the car on only the electric motor, only the petrol motor or both together depending on the driving conditions. For city speeds up to a range of about 30 km, the car can drive on electric power alone. When speeds go above 40 kmph, the petrol motor kicks in. And when peak acceleration is required the car uses both motors for maximum power.

It is because of this hybrid combination that despite good performance, the car gives a phenomenal mileage of 22 kmpl in the city.

Now, look at a regular petrol sedan like the Audi A4 with a 1.8 litre motor putting out better performance of 168 bhp. It has better top-end performance no doubt, but when it comes to pollution levels at slow city speeds and on fuel economy the Audi A4 loses out, as the petrol motor is always running, while the Prius can run on electric power alone as needed. The Audi A4 has a fuel-efficiency rating of 13 kmpl, giving only about 11 kmpl in the city, half that of the Prius. Also read: Toyota Prius only hybrid, but Maruti may join in

Long-term running costs are more expensive

So straight away, running costs should be half right? Not quite. The Prius uses far more technology and hence has expensive maintenance. Also the battery packs in the Prius need replacing after a few years, which would cost at least Rs. 2.5 lakh to replace. And that negates all the savings on fuel cost that one would have saved because of better overall fuel efficiency.

However, the reason to buy a hybrid is not just running cost or fuel cost – it is more to do with the environment. With a hybrid you pollute just half as much as you would with a regular petrol engine, not to mention consuming less fuel, which in its own way goes to saving the planet. That’s one of the reason celebrities have been lapping up hybrids like the Prius – it gives to bragging rights about caring for the environment. Also see: Convert any car to a hybrid with Revolo’s system

Share your thoughts on hybrid cars that are likely to come in.