I Think, Therefore I Hybrid (Toastmaster's Speech #9)

I gave this speech a couple weeks ago, but never remembered to actually put it up here. I wish I had more time to prepare on this one because I realized only after my speech that it had a fundamental flaw… namely that everyone in the room thought I was trying to convince them to buy a hybrid. In actuality, my speech was really trying to convince them to think through the issue of buying one and to not just rush out and buy one because of an emotional response. Sadly, I didn’t do a good job of communicating that difference in theme.


“I think, therefore I Hybrid.” That may sound like nothing more than a silly rephrasing of a well known philosophical statement, but its a much deeper statement than that. After reflecting on the line for a moment, those of you without hybrid vehicles might be asking yourselves, “If I don’t have a hybrid, does that mean I don’t think”?

Absolutely not! In fact, those of you who are driving non-hybrid cars have likely put more thought into the subject than those who have purchased a hybrid. You see, hybrid cars are not for everyone, although for me, purchasing one made a lot of sense.

There are lots of reasons people come up with to justify the purchase of a hybrid. The foremost reason most people use is to save money! That sounds great, but its generally not true. You see, hybrid cars often cost 15% more than a similarly equipped non-hybrid. The more expensive the base price of the car, the proportionately more expensive its hybrid version will be. Yes, you may save money on gas in the long run, but if you don’t drive far or often, you’ll likely spend more money buying the car than you will save on gas over the vehicle’s lifetime.

This price premium for hybrid cars is part of the reason that the US government implemented a tax break for early adopters of hybrids, in order to bring down the total cost of purchase long enough that demand for hybrids would skyrocket, bringing the price of a hybrid closer to its pure gasoline cousin. These tax breaks were for a limited time only and for many of the most popular models on the market have expired long ago. Yet the initial price difference remains, despite the large number of hybrid vehicles sold.

Its not just the initial outlay that is more expensive; hybrids have newer, less tested technology and more of it. This not only increases the upfront costs, but it means you have more care to maintain over the life of the vehicle as well. The batteries can fail, the electronics can short-circuit and the electric motors can die. Hybrids are more complex and thus require specially trained technicians to repair them.

Price isn’t the only argument people use to justify purchasing a hybrid. Some people believe that they are being environmentally friendly by purchasing a hybrid vehicle, but what they don’t know is that those additional components, the circuitry, battery and electric motors, often require far more pollutants to be released into the environment than all the pollutants not emitted from the gasoline they don’t use. These components can be toxic to, difficult to locate and extract from the earth and difficult to dispose of once their useful life is spent.

Given all of that, why would I entitle this speech, “I think, therefore I Hybrid”? Doesn’t it sound like I just made a solid argument against purchasing one? It honestly all depends on how you plan on using the car. For me, I drive over 100 miles every day I commute. My 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid gets 40mpg on that trip where my 1997 Toyota Camry only did 25mpg. That’s a huge improvement. Not only that, I purchased the car used and paid less for it than most people would a non-hybrid model from the same year. Add to that the fact that I can do most of my own repair and maintenance work and the hybrid ends up being a great deal for me.

But that is my situation and my situation is not your situation. If you drive only short distances, have a newer car that already gets decent gas mileage, then trading it in for a hybrid is likely a bad deal and you should just stick with what you have.

My advice to you when considering the purchase of a hybrid is to think it through and don’t purchase because you think you’ll save lots of money or save the environment. If either of those two is your goal, ride a bicycle. But if you want a good car and can find the right hybrid to replace that old gas guzzler that is about to fall apart, you might just find yourself sold on these little electric wonders, just as I have been sold on them.