Story: Thuy Pham
Photos: Thuy Pham, Nguyen Quang Ngoc

With Europe experiencing a scorching summer, the world is worried. For the first time in history, temperatures in the United Kingdom exceeded 40 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, Switzerland’s snowy mountain ranges are melting at an unprecedented rate. Over the past two decades, climate change has caused more frequent extreme weather events and set new records.

Lexus is a leader in hybrid cars that offer optimal fuel economy without sacrificing driving excitement

Friederike Otto, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science at the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, told Reuters that Europe is now 100 times more likely to experience heat waves due to human emissions of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. The temperature crisis is only signaling a new energy crisis.

Gasoline prices have reached a historic high (more than VND50,000/liter) in Europe and the United States, which consume the most fuel globally. Driving cars has become too expensive, forcing many Europeans to walk more and taxi drivers to change their habits, now waiting for customers to come to them instead of driving to find patrons. A few decades ago, only scientists discussed the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, as the former were being depleted and causing high greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, this topic is hotly debated on national agendas and at every family’s dining table. The automobile industry is a key focus, as it is one of the major emitters of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, and is reliant on fossil fuels.

“The auto industry is not just part of the climate problem, but above everything else, a central part of the solution,” stated former German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Twenty-seven European countries have agreed to phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2035. Some countries are even planning a head start: Norway will stop selling petrol/diesel cars in 2025, while the UK, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands will do so in 2030. This fuel revolution is being accelerated by nearly all of the major automobile manufacturers, including supercars and sports cars. Toyota and Lexus, two leading car manufacturers in Asia, have also announced that they will invest heavily in order to phase out fossil-fuel vehicles by 2040. Zero-emission electric vehicles are the new goal.

Producing electric vehicles is less complicated than making ones powered by gas or diesel. An 8-cylinder engine in a gas-fueled car has 1,200 assembly parts, whereas an electric motor has only 17 parts. However, even though electric cars have transformed Tesla into a behemoth in terms of market capitalization, and their production has become increasingly simple, consumer acceptance of purely electric vehicles is less straightforward.

Lower greenhouse gas emissions and better fuel efficiency are key advantages of hybrid cars

With current technology, producing electric vehicles (primarily batteries) consumes six times more rare metals like copper, cobalt, manganese, and lithium than manufacturing traditional vehicles. According to the International Energy Association, the price of lithium has risen by 700% in a year, alerting consumers that electric vehicles will grow more expensive.

Electric vehicles require an expensive infrastructure system with dedicated charging stations, and it takes a long time to fully charge each vehicle’s battery. This is true globally. Electric vehicle batteries require 11-16 hours to fully charge at a level 1 charging station in a private home. Charging time is 4 – 8 hours at level 2 stations in public places, but the cost of installing a charger is USD5,000. A level 3 charging station only needs 15 to 30 minutes to charge up to 80% of a battery, but each charger costs more than USD50,000 to build. The paradox is that the faster the charging, the shorter the battery life, while battery replacement costs 20% of the price of a new car.

In this context, a car line that debuted more than two decades ago has unexpectedly taken the throne. Hybrid cars, which use a combination of internal combustion engines and electric motors, have emerged as the best choice at a time when gasoline cars are too expensive and too polluting, and electric cars lack the necessary infrastructure to replace them. According to data from Wards Intelligence, the world’s largest auto market – the United States – saw a 142% increase in hybrid vehicle sales in 2021.

The most significant advantage of a hybrid vehicle is its improved fuel efficiency, as it uses 30% less fuel per mile than traditional gasoline-powered vehicles, making it less expensive to operate while significantly lowering greenhouse gas emissions. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, hybrid vehicles save approximately 1,000 gallons (4,500 liters) of gasoline and prevent the emission of approximately 9.8 tons of carbon dioxide for every 100,000 miles driven. Hundreds of thousands of hybrid vehicles sold in 2021 could save millions of tons of CO 2 over their entire life cycle. Hybrid cars do not reduce emissions to zero like electric cars, but they also don’t require any new infrastructure or leave drivers worried that their cars will run out of power.

Hybrid cars are the best choice as the world moves toward electric vehicles

“When hybrids first came out, they were kind of seen as this weird oddity,” admitted Ken Gillingham, a professor of Environmental Economics at Yale University. Dr. Gillingham went on to say that they’ve become mainstream during this transitional period. Toyota pioneered these “mainstream oddities” with the Prius, the world’s first – and best-selling commercial hybrid vehicle. Toyota was also behind the first popular hybrid car to hit the Vietnamese market, the Corolla Cross. However, Lexus was the brand that made hybrids a regular sight in Vietnam, with the release of its flagship LS 500h sedan in 2017.

Vietnamese customers can currently choose hybrid versions of almost all Lexus models, including the IS 300h, ES 300h, LS 500h, NX 350h, and RX 450h. These models’ hybrid technology has been upgraded to the fourth generation. The latest multi-stage hybrid technology of the LS 500h uses an additional self-charging electric battery to start the vehicle, the gasoline engine, and the wheel drive, in addition to two gasoline-electric motors. The car’s automated charging system is triggered whenever the car brakes. This 3-in-1 combination ensures that Lexus vehicles maintain a high level of driving excitement while also providing optimal fuel economy, significantly lowering emissions, and eliminating noise. In the future, Lexus Vietnam plans to distribute hybrid versions of all remaining models. “The more that people are comfortable with hybrids, the more they might be comfortable with electric vehicles in the future. That gives me optimism,” commented Ken Gillingham to the Washington Post. This is another possible function of hybrid vehicles: to familiarize consumers with electric cars.