Catching up on my reading from Christmas week I ran across this article in the New York Times, reporting some disappointing results from GM's hybrid buses. As the official from the American Public Transit Association indicated, hybrids offer more benefits than just fuel economy, including acceleration and reduced emissions. Still, it is apparent that the actual fuel savings achieved, just like those on conventional vehicles, vary widely with driving patterns. In particular, hybrids provide the greatest benefit when they are used in urban, stop-and-go traffic, and much less on the open road. This is something that anyone considering buying a Toyota Prius or Honda hybrid should remember, too.
The other interesting element in this story is the strategy behind GM's entry into the hybrid bus segment, based on the assumption that these vehicles' heavy use patterns makes them ideal for hybridization. I've heard the same rationale for targeting buses and trucks for early fuel cell applications. But targeting the right subset of this segment will be critical, to maximize the benefits of hybrids or fuel cells. Developers must also consider all the attributes that customers care about, not just fuel economy. GM's experience with hybrid buses shouldn't be seen as a setback, but rather as a learning opportunity.