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How good is a hybrid in the cold? Add to ...

I have recently become concerned with the environmental impact of my truck and I would like to buy a hybrid, but am concerned with the performance and durability in extreme conditions. I live in Northwestern Ontario where temperatures can reach minus-40 and road conditions can be treacherous. I'd like to know if a hybrid is a realistic option for me and if there is anything I should be concerned about? - Anne in Thunder Bay. Ont.

Assuming you're not using your truck to off-road in nature reserves or hunt endangered species, the main environmental impact of your vehicle (post-production) is the burning of fossil fuels to haul your load around. The rise of hybrid vehicles in our cities speaks to the fact that they offer solid performance, improved gas mileage, and reduced emissions.

Are they a realistic option in extreme weather conditions? The Toyota Prius hybrid taxi-cabs operating in Winnipeg are a good sign.

"There is no detrimental concern with a hybrid, you're certainly not getting any worse performance compared to a regular gasoline-powered vehicle. Actually, hybrids perform relatively better," says a General Motors spokesperson.

Assuming you still need the functionality of a truck, there are currently two hybrid pickup models available in Canada: the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra. These two-mode hybrid pickups are primarily driven by a gasoline engine, with a hybrid assist. These pickups can haul up to 2,767 kilograms - which means, for example, they can easily tow a single horse trailer carrying a Clydesdale.

So, how will a hybrid perform on the road?

"You can control a hybrid or electric drivetrain much easier, so they're good when road conditions are not," says Dr. Ali Emadi, who joins McMaster University next summer as a Canada Excellence Research Chair and director of the McMaster Institute for Automotive Research and Technology.

"You have more torque, so you can handle adverse conditions better. For instance, at times when you need all-wheel- or four-wheel-drive, you have much faster and more direct control with an electric propulsion system. They also have much faster acceleration than internal combustion engines, though the general public doesn't seem to know this. For example, the fully electric Tesla Roadster can go from zero to 60 [mph]in under four seconds."

The lifespan of hybrid batteries - and their replacement cost - is worthy of some thought. Estimates on battery life range from seven years to the life of the vehicle. In any case, they're warrantied for eight years. According to GM, a replacement hybrid battery costs around $4,000 these days - though the price is expected to drop substantially in the coming years.

Is purchasing a hybrid the most environmentally sound option?

"Given the choice between a hybrid pickup and a diesel, I would choose a hybrid, because the energy efficiency over the period of one year would be higher for a hybrid," says Dr. Narayan Kar, a current Canada Research Chair in hybrid drivetrain systems, and professor at the University of Windsor.

"The best thing you can do for the environment is to drive your old vehicle into the ground, because the life-cycle cost is so high. After that, you should switch to an all-electric," says Margaret Mahan, executive director of the Vancouver-based Better Environmentally Sound Transportation.

Since there are no all-electric pickup trucks on the market, if your truck is near the end of its life, a hybrid is a realistic option. You might even find a good deal on a used model.

 

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