The Hybrid Mustang is Like the Pope in Shorts

At the Detroit Auto Show reveal of the soon-to-be-produced hybrid Ford Mustang, marketing manager Mark Schaller said the following: “The world has figured out a way to take that technology and use it for performance… that will be the way we use that technology for this car . . . it’s not meant to be a hyper-miler car; Mustang is all about having fun while you drive.” (Italics added.)

And the trained seals clapped.

But, excuse me, please. If the object of this exercise isn’t mileage then why go to the trouble? I mean, what is the point, exactly?

To show it can be done?

Like the pyramids?

A hybrid drivetrain makes no sense except as a way to reduce the amount of gasoline a vehicle burns. In other words, to make it more economical to drive.

A second drivetrain is added — the electric motor and its battery pack — in order to relieve the gas-burning engine of the chore of propelling the car as much as conditions permit (as when the car is stationary or just creeping along at low speed, in heavy traffic) in order to reduce fuel consumption.

In order to save money.

You accept a reduction in performance — and fun — as the price of that.

Remember your Dr. Strangelove? His explanation of the reason for making public the existence of the Doomsday device? It’s the point of the thing, you see.

The fact that you can make a “performance” hybrid doesn’t mean it should be made. It is like keeping the Doomsday machine a secret.

Why?

First, it adds weight — the weight of a second drivetrain. As a for-instance: The hybrid Lexus GS450h sport sedan — another “performance” hybrid — weighs 4,112 lbs. The regular, non-hybrid GS350 weighs 3,726 lbs. The hybrid is lugging around 386 pounds of electric motors and batteries — roughly the equivalent of a small block Chevy V8 sitting in the passenger seat.

This (more weight) tends to . . . decrease both efficiency and performance — for the same reason it’s hard to have hot ice cubes.

The GS450h has more total power (338 hp vs. 311 for the GS350) because it has two power sources (gas engine and electric motor/battery pack) but because of that almost 400 pounds of extra beef, the GS450 is only just barely quicker than the GS350: 5.6 seconds to 60 vs. 5.7 for the non-hybrid GS.

Remind me again what the point is?

You could fix this by adding a larger/stronger IC engine — but that will burn up more gas. Or you could install a larger, more powerful electric motor/battery pack to make up for a small, gas—sippy but not-too-powerful IC engine. But that will make the car even heavier which will make it less efficient — and also more clumsy. Handling will be affected and probably not for the better.

This may matter to people who purchase cars like the Mustang, which is not a car like the Prius.

Second, expense. It is the enemy of economy.

An expensive technology is pretty much by definition not economical technology. Solar panels come to mind. It’s a lovely idea but the cost to replace an asphalt shingle roof with a solar panel roof is much too high to make it worth doing in economic terms. Do it because you think it’s neat or because you like the idea of not being tied to the grid, all fine. But from an economic point of view, it is rubber roomy.

Same goes for a “performance” hybrid like the Lexus GS450 . . . or a hybrid Mustang. Hot ice cubes . . .

A hybrid necessarily costs more than an otherwise similar non-hybrid car. Because it has more stuff. A motor (or motors) and a battery pack, plus the peripherals — in addition to the IC side of the equation. This is ok if the hybrid’s higher cost to buy is made up for in as-you-drive savings. The Prius, for instance. It averages in the mid-50s, and only costs about $2,000 more than an otherwise similar but non-hybrid economy sedan/hatchback.

It is, however, not quick. And this is acceptable because the object is to save money, not cut a snappy 0-60 run. Or to corner athletically.

But a performance hybrid?

In order to perform, it becomes less efficient. And more expensive.

The Lexus GS450h’s base price is $63,635 — vs. $50,695 for the fundamentally the same but non-hybrid GS350.

The difference is $12,940.

But the difference in mileage isn’t much, because the performance hybrid must also deliver the 0-60 goods. So: 29 city, 34 highway for the GS450h vs. 20 city, 28 highway for the GS350. This is a 9 MPG uptick in city driving and 6 on the highway.

This works out to about 8 MPG overall.

For this, you pay nearly $13,000 more. You don’t lose a step, 0-60. But you lose a lot of money.

Work the problem, as they said in Apollo 13.

The extra cost of the hybrid gear is only justifiable in economic terms if the resultant (more expensive) car significantly lowers your costs to drive the car.

But Schaller openly tells us that such considerations do not apply to the hybrid Mustang. That it will be “fun to drive” and “performance oriented.” He — Ford — says that the hybrid Mustang will deliver “V8 performance.”

Okay, why not just install a V8, then?

I mean, if that’s the goal — what’s the point of going to all this trouble and expense to duplicate the performance of a V8 Mustang without the V8 but with a fatter price tag and without a meaningful reduction in cost to drive?

You are making a more expensive and complex and heavier and likely worse-handling Mustang . . . just so you can tout that it’s a hybrid?

You are — as one of my hillbilly friends used to put it — going around the block to cross the street.

The only reason for this pyramid-on-wheels is to buff Ford’s “green” credentials. And to enable people who want to preen “green” a way to do so. That it doesn’t make economic or functional or even performance sense doesn’t matter. We live in a loony room era, in which such considerations do not apply.

My teeth are beginning to hurt.

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One Response to “The Hybrid Mustang is Like the Pope in Shorts”

  1. JeffG says:

    The issue makes even less sense for very expensive sports cars like Porsche’s and higher end BMW’s. Not enough are sold anyway so the effect of increasing their gas mileage is negligible. They are just giving in to governmental pressure. No one with any sense should care that Ferraris and Lamborginis get 12 miles to the gallon. Even full electric sports cars like the Tesla make little environmental sense other than as science experiments to develop the technology. The few Tesla owners I know use them as second or around town cars but use their big SUV’s or Mercedes sedans for long trips so they don’t need to worry about charging them on the road. The only hybrid non-economy use that might actually make sense might be cars like the Lexus RX450h which have limited use all wheel drive with gas power on one axle and electric on the other. That design eliminates the need for all of the normal all wheel drive differentials, etc.