The hundreds of thousands of hybrid cars sold in the United States since their arrival on these shores in 1999 must be putting a dent in oil imports, right? Not quite. Or at least not yet. According to a report released by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, fuel efficient electric-gasoline cars like the Toyota (TM) Prius and Honda (HMC) Civic have saved a grand total of 5.5 million barrels of oil over the past eight years. On the other hand, the U.S. was importing 8.5 million barrels of oil a day in 2003 to power cars and light trucks. "Hybrid electric vehicles would have to replace a significant portion of the total light duty vehicle fleet to have an impact on petroleum imports," NREL researchers concluded. The lab calculated gasoline savings based on fuel efficiency data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and reports from hybrid car owners and then used modeling software to calculate how many hybrids were on the road in any given year. Despite the negligible consequence of hybrids on oil imports so far, researchers were optimistic about their potential, noting that hybrid sales have grown 72 percent a year over the past five years and that such vehicles were 45 percent more fuel efficient than similar-sized conventional cars in 2006. "Although the fuel savings from hybrid electric vehicles to date is relatively small compared to the total fuel use, as the technology matures and these numbers increase they can have a significant impact in reducing our overall transportation fuel use,” said NREL senior research engineer Matthew Thornton in a statement. Of course, that impact would be magnified if General Motors (GM), Ford (F) and other U.S. automakers focused less on creating hybrid versions of monster SUVs like the Chevrolet Tahoe and more on developing small and mid-sized hybrids. Or all-electric cars, for that matter.
Report: Hybrid Cars’ Low Impact on Oil Imports
June 21, 2007 by Todd Woody