gas-pumpIf you are hoping to reduce costs by buying a hybrid motor home in the near future, you had better not hold your breath.  If such a vehicle does become available, you  may  need to have deep pockets.  While an electric/gas hybrid may very well cut your fuel consumption substantially, you will probably never reach a ROI (return on investment).   In fact you will probably lose big time.


Basically, this is the way they operate.  They are propelled by either an electric motor or a gasoline engine, depending on the current circumstances.  The battery pack only receives a charge while the vehicle is coasting or braking.  When additional power is required, the gas engine takes over.  While the gas engine is propelling the vehicle, no charge is supplied to the batteries.  The gas engine will actually shut off, if and when it is not required, for example at a stoplight.  It will restart automatically when needed. 

Many hybrid automobiles today are basically short time vehicles, or better put, disposable.  This is largely due to the cost of the prime battery pack that powers the vehicle while it is in the electric propulsion mode.  These batteries generally are covered by a 100,000 mile warranty and can cost anywhere from about $3,500 to $8,000 to replace.  The suggested life of the battery packs are anywhere from 8 to 10 years, based on 10,000 to 12,000 miles per year.  Higher yearly mileage would of course reduce this.  When this vehicle reaches 10 years old it would be doubtful that it would have a value worth replacing the battery pack, not to mention other components.  So, it would probably be considered scrap.

hybridThe cost to purchase an average hybrid is around $5,000 more than that of a conventional vehicle.  Based on a Toyota Camry, the hybrid will use about $500 less fuel for 12,000 miles as compared to a straight gas powered unit.  That alone would take 10 years to recover the extra cost.  Add to that, the car may well have no resale value at that time.



It is for the above reason that few lease companies will ever handle today’s hybrid offerings.  The resale, even after a three year lease, may be questionable.  They are today, a great unit for the environment, but a costly vehicle in the long run for the owner.

So, now let’s apply this to a motor home.  Well, first off, we will need a lot more battery power.  This would probably require anywhere from 6 to 10 times more than that of a relatively light hybrid automobile.  The battery replacement could run $40,000 to $60,000, or more.  The capital purchase costs may increase $80,000 to $100,000, or more.  I would doubt the batteries would last 10 years, perhaps 8 if they were driven low mileage and were carefully maintained.  Well, 8 years old, and the batteries require replacement?   What’s the unit worth?  Maybe nothing.

Well, maybe the auto market will slowly switch to a 10 year vehicle life.  If the vehicles worked well and were priced right, it might fly.  But, I doubt we will see people scrapping an 8 or 10 year old RV, that’s just not going to happen.

Don’t take me wrong, the development to date of hybrid autos is remarkable, and certainly reduces the fuel consumption.  It is unquestionably a greener way to drive, but I don’t believe it is a cheaper form of transportation.  Some people may drive one to aid the environment regardless of costs, others because they are under the false belief that it is cheaper.  Regardless, the future developments and our reliance on oil will bring more cost efficient vehicles to the market place in the near future.

With a Green View     –     Lug_Nut      –       Peter Mercer

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  2. Pingback: Hybrid-Technologie aus Japan | Automobil-Firmen

  3. dzent1, Thank you for the interesting link and for taking the time to comment. Your input is appreciated.

  4. dzent1

    In England, a company is developing battery exchange stations for hybrids and electrics that are similar to gas stations, except that you simply swap out the battery in an apparently manageable fashion and go on your way. The concept is receiving somewhat enthusiastic reception and could very well catch on in the US as well.

    Here’s an interesting article on it:

  5. G Shea, I know one issue was the size of storage required for natural gas, but compressing it, if safe, would reduce that. Thank you for your participation on this topic.

  6. G Shea

    The real answer to our fuel troubles, ALL of them, for the short term is CNG, especially for RVs. The transit agencies, and city taxi fleets have fiquered it out. RV industry could really lead the way if they choose to do it, our leaders sure are not. A shame, as cars burning CNG avg 70 mpg, and CNG is less than 1.00 per gallon. We have 200,000 trillion gallons of it in US. The bus fleet I drive has used it for over a decade and saved a ton of money and massivly reduced the junk going into the air. G Shea

  7. larrycad, I would think they certainly are worth looking at, and the price will come down while the output may go up. Thanks for the great input.

  8. larrycad

    Something else we need to throw intot the mix is fuelcells. While at the RVIA show this week I visited the Protonex booth to discuss their new M250-B which is a 250 watt DC generating fuel cell which operates from methanol. Granted, we are not going to do much travel on a 250 watt power source, but this one weighs in at 40 lbs and runs for 8 hours on a gallon of fuel with virtually no emissions. Will fuel cells get better/cheaper? As our recently unsuccessful vice-presidential candidate said, “you betcha”!!

  9. Stripes

    A nit — Nickel Metal Hydride doesn’t have a memory effect that most people should have to worry about.

    NiMH does have a memory effect. Specifically NiMH has been observed to have a memory effect when all of the following are true: (1) the charge/discharge cycle is exceptionally regular, (2) the NiMH battery is subject to temperature extremes not commonly found on earth, and (3) the NiMH battery is in a near zero gravity application.

    In simpler terms, if you haven’t launched your NiMH battery into space, it isn’t going to have a memory effect.

    It WILL wear out. They basically have a number of full charge equivalent cycles. So a given NiMH battery may last 300 cycles full charge/discharge, or 600 cycles half use/full charge. (300 isn’t uncommon in AAA sized cells…you can get 1000+ charge cycle AAAs though, and other sizes and prices get you other numbers of charge cycles).

    NiMH is really good for rapid discharge. Given their lack of memory effect, rapid but not too rapid discharge ability, and availability in consumer sizes (and prices!) I would be surprised to see a battery better suited to camera flashes come out for a long long time (pleased, but surprised).

    Big electric motors? Non-standard sizes, and voltages allowed? Big price tag? Demand for fast charges? There are lots of things aiming for that market segment, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find something more suitable come rolling out of the labs anytime.

    Nature controls what there is to discover, but markets shape where (most) researchers look…

  10. Stripes. Cool! I totally agree. The batttery technology is yet to surface. Probably it is already here, just not in focus yet. But, Metal Hydride it is not. Thanks for your very full comment and for some great input on this topic.

  11. Stripes

    Battery technology has been advancing over the past 10 years. Look at laptop batteries for example, they have gone from an hour and a half to 8 hours while at the same time battery draw from laptops has gone up. Of corse laptop batteries have many fewer charge cycles then we want for a vehicle, so they aren’t directly applicable.

    There are a lot of interesting battery technologies in the labs currently. Things with lower production costs, things that charge really really fast, things that hold more power.

    Of corse many things have never made it from the lab to production test. Many things have never made it from production test to full scale production. Many things have never made it from full scale production to the market. Many things have never made it from the market to success.

    So while I think it is silly to say “batteries aren’t getting better so the hybrid RV isn’t going to be a useful item”, it is the height of folly to say “batteries are getting better fast, so I’ll bet tens of thousands on a breakthrough in 5 to 10 years”.

    (well assuming the only upside of the bet is a new car/RV now…if you are buying stock in a company that depends on such things the upside is much larger, and may or may not be enough to justify the considerable risk)

  12. Bob West, I totally agree with the progress as of today has been a good step. My point really supports the reality that it may not be that big cost savings in the long run that people believe now. If you drive big miles per year, as many do, these are not the vehicle you should have. It’s the old expression, “You can pay me now, or big time later.” If it sounds unbielvable, it probably is. Thank you for your support and real experienced comments on this subject.

  13. Bob West

    I have a Prius that has done better than 150,000 and I will not be unhappy to replace the battery for another 150,000+. What is missing in the analysis is the supply of fuel. At one point we were worrying about rationing and just plain not having enough oil to supply needs at any cost. Of course the rich will be able to motor but the poor will be pedaling the bike. If we were all more efficient in our cars which drive the most we would not need to worry about hybrids in our moho’s. You must have had a bad Highlander because charging when gas is running is the main source of recharging.

    It is frustrating to read the article that is so full of payback argument and does not recognize the supply issues. Not drilling in Alaska would be wonderful. Having alternative ways to transport ourselves is important. Electric vehicles can fill a need; hybrids can fill a need; better gas efficiency will fill a need. If we do not start soon we will be stuck in long lines to gas up.

    I fear the logic here is the same as the logic that killed the EV1.

  14. Chris Bryant, I certainly respect your knowledge on this topic, however, I haven’t seen a hybird of this type ever get 150k or anything near that. Nickel Metal Hydride is now nearly a primitive battery type. It is not without a memory trace. If hybird vehicles are going to rule one day, it sure won’t be with that technology. Thanks for your valuable input.

  15. D. Schlagel, That certainly may be a concern. Today’s savings may result in tomorrows problems. Thank you for bring this up and for both your comments.

  16. Terry, The disposable statement was actually made by the president of a large japanese auto manufacturer and can be found on the internet. They claimed the car itself was only made for a 10 year life. Not all hybrid vehicles charge the battery while under the power of the gas engine. A Toyota Highlander (2009) that I drove for two weeks did not charge the battery when the engine was powering the vehicle. Thank you for your great explanation and post.

  17. I also disagree with the “disposable” label- a replacement Prius battery pack costs $2300, and they regularly go well beyond 150,000 miles- that’s about a cent and a half per mile- an insignificant amount.
    Prius batteries are Nickel Metal Hydride, and valuable for recycling.

    All in all, batteries are about the most reliable part of a hybrid.

  18. D. Schlagel

    As with tires I’m sure anyone who owns these vehicles will be also hit with the cost of discarding the battery paks.

    I’m sure the paks won’t be inexpensive to recycle and therefore adding to the emmissions impact.

    I’m sure they wouldn’t be like aluminum or copper where you receive a small payment for recycling at the recycling yards although there are places that pay for the auto, truck and tractor battery’s.

    Any thoughts?

  19. D. Schlagel

    Has anyone discussed the enviornmental impact of any major accident with the hybrids?

  20. Terry

    Lug Nut, I disagree with you about a few things. We own a Camry Hybrid, and no, we’re not tree hugging conservatives. Your assumptions about the mode of operation for the vehicle and the savings payout over time have a bug or two. First off, they do charge the battery bank while the engine is running, not just coasting or stopping. Secondly, I think you’re assuming everyone buying a hybrid is moving into one from a car that gets respectable mpg already. We went from a 2007 Durrango to a 2009 Camry. We easily save $1100 per year on mileage alone assuming gas is $2.5 / gallon. Our break even point will be in 3-5 years, but we keep vehicles longer than that due to our lower than average mileage driving. Thirdly, the batteries are warrantied for 10 years or 100,000 miles, and yes they will be expensive to replace (today’s cost $4500), but gasoline / diesel engines are expensive to replace too, and nobody warranties them for 10 years or 100,000 miles, yet we keep buying them too.
    Finally, I do believe in the overall picture it may cost a bit (not substantially) more to have a Hybrid (easily offset costs if you give up leather seats, sunroofs, etc). It may even cause a bit more on the emission side of things to produce one. However,neither the auto industry, nor the energy industry will make substantial improvements without this type of learning. Undoubtedly years in the future things will be drastically different from today’s hybrids, but we’ll never get there without moving down this road with today’s technology. And no, I agree, with the technology at it’s current stage, I wouldn’t look for a hybrid RV any time soon either, we’re just not there yet. But we will be.

  21. GK, Great input, and so detailed. This is not an easy topic to predict the future. Thanks for your very fitting input.

  22. GK

    First, you can buy hybrid delivery trucks and hybrid class 8 tractors today from firms like Kenworth, Freightliner and Peterbilt. The diesel/electric locomotive has been in use since the 1930’s, and represents the earliest form of ICE/electric hybrid power. That being said, it is more a question of the economics of building them, not whether it can be done or not.

    Personally, I’m not convinced that hybrids make any economic sense, at least not for cars. Even the cheapest models can take 7-10 years of ownership just to break even on the extra cost of purchase (even allowing for government incentives). I did one study where the break-even was the more typical 3-5 year ownership cycle for a car, but that required gas to be priced somewhere around $6-7/gallon. The luxury hybrids like the high-end Lexus models take anywhere from 50-100 years of typical driving to make up the extra purchase cost. That number comes down to 40-75 years with $6/gallon gas. As an economic proposition, you would be better to buy a gas-powered 4-cylinder car and pocket the savings to pay for any future fuel price increases.

    I think that people that are buying hybrids either haven’t done the math, or have decided that “it does good in other ways”. However, they seem to fail to take into account the extra energy, emissions and materials needed to make a conventional gas/electric hybrid. A car like the Prius, as an example, needs the same energy and material needed to build a 4-cylinder gas-powered car like the Corolla, with the added materials, energy and emissions for the electric system and batteries. The batteries are the nastiest part of the equation. What I have yet to see is any sort of credible study on how long you have to own a hybrid, with its reduced emissions, to make up for the extra emissions from manufacturing.

    To Chris Burton: the cost of the batteries used in hybrids actually hasn’t changed much in over a decade. A lot of that battery technology goes back 20-30 years, some of it coming from aircraft technology. While the estimated future cost might be out by a few percentage points, the future cost won’t be an order of magnitude less than it is today. Your referring to the steep decline we see in electronics prices doesn’t hold for batteries, because they aren’t electronic devices, and cant’t benefit any increased economy of scale, because there isn’t any “scale”. The plant and technology for making these batteries is already well known and well established, and has been done in a similar fashion for a very long time.

    In fact, you can expect any battery requiring lithium to go up in price over time. Lithium isn’t exactly a common element in the Earth’s crust, and the reality is that it is getting harder and more expensive to find and refine lithium. Remember that its not just hybrid car batteries that need it. Cell phones, MP3 players, laptops and all manner of other portable devices largely use lithium-based batteries. We can recover a lot if people recycle old batteries, but that doesn’t always happen right now. Consider that with about 1 billion cell phones globally, each with a 4 ounce battery, adds up to a *lot* of lithium when taken as a whole. Add in nearly 1 billion MP3 players, 100-200 million laptops, 30-50 million portable game devices, and all of the other assorted devices like electric razors, electric toothbrushes, cordless phones and such, and it all adds up pretty quickly. Lithium isn’t something we can just “make”, you have to mine it like any other metal, and extract it from the ore, process it, etc.

  23. Robert E. Smith, I am aware of the FL hybrird. Same message. Less fuel no ROI. I believe we are not near a true cost reducing vehicle, albeit a fuel reduction. We will see. Thanks for the link and great input.

  24. Dalton Tamney

    My understanding of diesel electric locomotives is that a diesel engine drives a generator that provides electricity for the electric motors that move the locomotive. A huge bank of batteries is not involved. In my view that may be the real future of a true diesel electric motor home.

  25. Chris Burton, Very true, however hybrids have been out for some 4 years now and the battery prices have not really come down much. If those were driven 25k per year they are done. I would not make a purchase based on the hope that the prices will reduce. More likely newer types of battery technology will show up, and most likely not configured to the older vehicles. Thanks for your very valuable input on this topic.

  26. Chris Burton

    Can’t agree with your conjecture regarding the lack of resale of hybrids in 10 years. While your contention is true today, neither you nor I can predict the actual cost of replacement batteries in 8 to 10 years. If they follow the accepted rules for nearly everything electronic, the cost’s will decrease dramatically along with the economy of scale seen from their acceptance in the marketplace. Hybrid technology offers a real alternative to high fuel costs, and creates breathing room for further development. As to your contention that the technology can’t or won’t be adapted to motorhomes because of their size and demands, I’ll bet the railroads would be surprised to hear that…