Sunday, July 17, 2005

Relax -- According to the New York Times, greenies are aghast that manufacturers are using hybrid technology to deliver better performance, not better fuel economy. Exhibit A is the Honda Accord hybrid that boasts more power than the regular V6 at mileage that rivals the base four.

While it may seem an epic feat of managing cognitive dissonance, the performance-loving Downshift considers itself very green, after a fashion. But, we are not at all worried about impure uses of hybrid technology.

First, every Accord customer who wants the performance of a V6 and buys a hybrid has contributed to better fuel economy. At $2000 more than the V6, the hybrid version is not cannabilizing sales of stripper four-pots.

Second, the quest for every greater power has an end. See the Downshift Limit of Power Theory. The Accord weighs 3501 pounds, so the power-to-weight ratio is 13.7 lbs/bhp, approaching the LPT magic 13.0 lbs/bhp. The LPT posits that Honda will not be rewarded in the market for delivering power beyond about 285 horsepower (allowing for the Accord to put on another 200 lbs). At that point, it will make more business sense for Honda to focus engine development on fuel efficiency gains rather than power gains.

Third, Honda's spreading the love. Every model line that gets a hybrid is a model line that is more fuel efficient. Soon enough, there will be a base-model, four-cylinder hybrid Accord that gets the same performance out of fewer gallons of gas. And, it will have a smaller price differential than today's hybrids. We just gotta get there.

Doe it make sense to give a tax credit to a 255-horsepower Accord? (We remember driving our college friend's Accord in 1984. A 255-horsepower Accord would have seemed a laughable fantasy. But, we digress.) Sure, because the hybrid Accord is a direct alternative to a more fuel-thirsty model. That's the immediate benefit. Looking down the road, it improves the market for Honda (and others) to build more hybrids, driving the price of the technology down, and making it more likely that hybrid versions of mainstream, volume sellers will show up sooner.

And, that's a good thing.