Hybrid Vehicles: Are They Worth It?

This page was authored by Lori Carmack, Salisbury University.
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In this project, students compare and contrast hybrid electric and gas-only powered vehicles, with an emphasis on associated fuel costs. In particular, during an in-class activity, students learn about hybrid vehicles and also how to convert mileage driven to a corresponding dollar value based on a vehicle's MPG rating. Afterward, students are assigned a group project in which they: (1) use descriptive statistics to analyze the cost of gasoline throughout the U.S.; (2) investigate the question of whether it makes financial sense to purchase the more expensive hybrid version of a vehicle; and (3) consider the broader implications of owning a hybrid vehicle. Students present results of their investigations via an oral presentation.

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Learning Goals

This activity emphasizes data analysis, computation (including conversion factors), and critical thinking skills. In addition, this project ideally encourages students to:
  • Reflect on fuel consumption, the monetary costs associated with driving, and vehicle emissions
  • Build effective coalitions
  • Engage in civil discourse/communications that lead to more effective decisions
  • Increase their literacy around sustainability issues
  • Self-reflect and develop their voice and skills for solving societal challenges
  • Think creatively to envision and build a sustainable future

Context for Use

This activity is intended for use in a college level quantitative reasoning or liberal arts mathematics course, although it could also be used in a high school setting. The activity is most appropriate as a small group project completed over several days outside of class. Necessary mathematical skills include elementary descriptive statistics and basic computation. Reasoning skills are also required since students are asked to address open-ended questions. To complete the project, students need data analysis software (such as Microsoft Excel) and internet access.

Description and Teaching Materials

In this project, students find the average price of gasoline in each state from the internet, and use Microsoft Excel (or other data analysis software) and elementary descriptive statistics to analyze the data. Students are then asked to research hybrid electric vehicles and determine whether purchasing a new hybrid vehicle is more cost effective than purchasing a new vehicle of the same make and model that runs solely on gasoline. In other words, students address the open-ended question of whether the money saved over the years by using less gasoline would compensate for the higher purchase price of the hybrid version of a car. Finally, students are asked to consider the broader societal question of whether hybrid vehicles are "worth" the extra monetary cost. Students are expected to present their computations and results via an oral presentation with an accompanying visual display.

Gasoline and Hybrid Vehicle Project (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 23kB Sep23 18)

Teaching Notes and Tips

The in-class portion of this project is helpful for students since they: (1) learn briefly about the internal-combustion engine, electric motors, and hybrid electric vehicles; and (2) learn how to convert miles driven to an associated dollar figure. While completing the project, students will hopefully discover the notion of a break-even point--this idea is intentionally left out of the project description for that reason.


Students beforehand are given a specific grading rubric for the project. In addition to presenting project results in class in the form of a visual display, students are asked to submit their visual display.

References and Resources