Hummers Have A Smaller Eco-Footprint Than Hybrids?

A few years ago a report titled the ‘Dust to Dust’ report claimed that the total environmental footprint of a Hummer SUV was less than that of a Toyota Prius. If you want to read the entire 458 page report you can download the PDF here, but the synopsis of the report basically puts forth that once you take into the account the full costs associated with research, development, mining, operation and maintenance and finally the recycling of the hybrid car the total amount of energy consumed is greater than that of a Hummer over each vehicle’s usable lifetime.


Needless to say, the report was widely quoted in the media. However, a rebuttal has since been published by Dr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute which points out some questionable methods. Two of the highlights in the Dust to Dust Report:

  • A Hummer is expected to last 35 years, whereas a Prius is expected to last less than 12
  • A Hummer is expected to run for almost 400,000 miles versus a Prius’ 109,000 miles

I only briefly skimmed over the ‘Dust to Dust’ report, but there is lots of superfluous information (including cartoon pictures and song lyrics?) and it is not written as a proper scientific paper. The rebuttal on the other hand not only a slap on the wrists, but a veritable slap to the face as it pulls no punches in attempting to discredit the original report. It is also much more readable at 7 pages in length. Both reports aside, beyond walking clearly the mode of transportation that is best for the planet would be unicycles. (Less material than bicycles.)

Preet Banerjee
Preet Banerjee an independent consultant to the financial services industry and a personal finance commentator. You can learn more about Preet at his personal website and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.
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Showing 12 comments
  • Traciatim

    I would argue that the hummer is designed to be a tough long lasting hunk of metal and the prius having batteries will not last anywhere near as long. If you just look at the thing it looks like a little toy.

    If the hummer has less of an eco footprint, what about a Focus, Carolla, Aveo/Wave, or even a Taurus, Speed6, or a 535xi wagon.

    It would seem that the eco-friendly like making the ‘feel good’ choice rather than the intelligent choice. Switching to ethanol was a big thing, until they realized they are starving people. Switching to Electrics is grand . . . until they realize ground level ozone will skyrocket, and they don’t work well in the cold.

    People need to drive, not everyone driving but mostly. Unless alternatives can offer the same performance and ease of refueling there will be no massive switch.

    It’s interesting that farming for meat products accounts for about 18% of our GG emissions, and transportation about 12% if I’m remembering correctly. So if we could instead get everyone to eat half as much meat we would do FAR better in the long run. Yet you don’t see that trumpeted all over the news since it sells less products instead of more.

  • Preet

    Interesting point.

    I think the smallest footprint vehicle was the Scion xB, or something like that. The non-hybrid econocars rated well since they used conventional engines and streamlined assembly processes. With proper maintenance I could see many cars making it to 500,000km. I’ve had two cars that made it to over 300,000km before I sold them. I know one is still in use.

    I don’t know how long the batteries last on hybrids, but I’ve heard the cost of replacing them are huge (well into the thousands of dollars). Not to mention all the work that goes into getting the materials and then further the manufacturing.

    Certainly as conventional cars became more efficient, the hybrids will do so as well.

    But I still think the answer is unicycles. Or pogo-sticks. Maybe stilts. :P

  • Potato

    Please see and — both great chat boards about hybrids where you can find all kinds of information as well as rebuttals to things like the dust-to-dust study (including in the FAQ/stickies).

    To say the methodology of the dust to dust report was deeply flawed is to make the grievous error of assuming that it had any kind of methodology to it at all. Just look at the numbers it produces and you’ll immediately see that it’s patently ridiculous:

    Toyota Echo: 70 cents/mi "dust to dust" cost, 157,000 mi expected lifetime. That works out to $109,900 for an Echo! I drive an Accord: $2.18/mi according to CNW, for a lifetime cost of $455k… I don’t make that much in a decade! You can bet that no one is paying that much for their car over its lifetime. That’s a hell of a lot of "energy cost" to "leverage to future models" or to be soaked up by various externalities… the Pacific Inst. report does an even more thorough and authoritative job of chewing out the dust to dust report.

    I don’t know how long the batteries last on hybrids, but I’ve heard the cost of replacing them are huge (well into the thousands of dollars).

    No one can say for sure how long they’ll last, because it’s not yet clear if they have a time decay as well as a usage decay (i.e.: if the battery is kaput after 20 years no matter how many miles are put on it). Either way, they look to be good for at least a decade, probably two. They’re lasting too well for us to know how long they’ll last with any more precision than that; not a terrible problem to have, I suppose :)

    Some of the early Honda Insights and Civic Hybrids had pack failures, primarily in manual transmission cars in very hot or very hilly/mountainous terrain. Depleting the battery to a low state of charge seems to be the only thing that hurts them, which that type of driving had the potential to do. AFAIK, Honda subsidized the cost of repairs to the affected drivers and their new battery control software should prevent the problems from recurring in their 2006+ civics. The Prius batteries are under warranty for 8 years, and so far they appear to hold up exceptionally well for the taxi fleets and other high mileage drivers (with the record being over 550,000 km {350,000 mi} and the clock only stopped there because the car was totaled in an accident). A factory battery with dealer installation is expensive: est. $3-5000. However, there have been enterprising people with technical skills who have refurbished batteries (which are made of a number of smaller cells, and generally only a handful of individual cells fail when a battery fails) at a cost that comes closer to $1000. So far, there is no aftermarket competition to the dealers.

    Switching to ethanol was a big thing, until they realized they are starving people.

    I’ve got my doubts about the ultimate utility of ethanol production, but I also think that it’s far too easy to blame biofuel production for the current food price spike. From what I can find, about 20% of the US corn crop went into biofuels last year, and it’s pretty much the only food crop that gets diverted to that stream. 20% of the crop looks to be within the normal range of crop yield variances, and last year was a record crop to boot. No, something else is leading to food price inflation and starving the world…

  • Preet

    Great info Potato!

    • seo_tweeters

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    • seo_tweeters

      That I agree with!

  • Andrew Riles

    I read with interest the Dust-to-Dust article, and while some of the facts presented have since been disupted, one thing remains clear to me….to produce a prius, you need a lot of nickel to make the battery, and mining nickel is anything but a clean process.

    having said that, i think that hybrid cars offer significant advantages to city commuters, where speeds are low, and there’s a lot of stop start driving, in these situations the petrol motor wouldn’t get used much at all, provided there was sufficient charge placed back into the batteries via the regenerative braking. Adding an array of solar panels to the prius would help with the recharging process, reduce the time the alternator is running, and also allow the water pump and other ancillaries to be run electrically rather than by a drive belt.

    While i don’t know the maths, it would be interesting to see how much power could be generated by covering the entire roof of a bus or semi-trailer with an array of solar panels…

  • Preet

    @Andrew – thanks for the comment. I believe that the hybrids show better mileage for City driving then Highway (opposite of conventional cars) which would support your conjecture.

  • John

    I understand the desire to be eco-friendly but I find myself disliking hybrids as I see them as a short-term solution for a long term problem. If we are really concerned about carbon emissions I think we should be pressuring law makers to push power plant changes/replacement. Caol is one of the most poluting power producers in the world. Look at China, they build a new, cheap coal plant every few months. These are not clean or safe. I don’t know if Solar is mature enough to really start to make an impact on the grid either. I’m also not certain about the end-cost of replacing and dealing with damaged or end of life cells. Many of these “green” technologies are very energy intensive to produce and while fledgling often have extensive amounts of hazardous constituants. (Now for the bombshell) I think we(USA at least) needs to shift from a primarily caol-powered grid to a nuclear one. I have worked with Navy reactors for 10 years and civilian plants are of similar design and safety. I know everyone is still afraid of TMI and Chernobyl(sp?) but those accidents were two different animals entirely. Firstly, had Chnbl. had a containment building like ALL US plants, the disaster would have been significantly less prominent. I am not trying to down play it at all, it was a horrible event. Also, the chnbl reactor design has been proved as an unstable and inherently uncontrolable unit. The US went through decades of research to ensure its plants did not have instability problems. Secondly, TMI has been extensively blown out of proportion by the media. One of my co-workers remembered the reporter stating he could “smell the radiation”. That’s ridiculous, can you smell sunlight? X-rays? Anyway, TMI in many ways actually validated the ability of the plant to mitigate environmental release. There was release, but equate its long term affects to getting a paper cut. There are none. The navy has shown us for over 50 years now that this mode of power generation is safe. No one thinks twice about a carrier coming to port with its twin power plants on board, or the fact we can port our nuke boats at over 150 ports in the world. I hope I haven’t ranted too much about this but here’s my real point; with a nuclear or mostly nuclear power grid, the carbon footprint of a nation of electric cars drops significantly.

  • Scott VanPala

    Comment removed for personal attacks and name-calling against another commenter. Please respect the other commenters, and feel free to try again if you can clean it up.

  • Leslie

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  • Jamie Abels

    Interesting idea to advertise Hummer but didn’t calculate the research for internal combustion engine. They tell use to stop researching for other types of fuel? I work in a container transportation Turkey company and I have to tell you that transportation companies are willing to give money for research because the oil is obsolete and the prices are always high.