There is a "significant" rise in the number of Israelis buying hybrid cars, according to statistics gathered by the Air Quality department of the Environment Ministry and published Tuesday.
The term hybrid vehicle (HV) refers to a vehicle that uses two distinct power sources such as an on-board rechargeable energy storage system like batteries, in conjunction with petroleum, or other sources of fuel for vehicle propulsion.
The ministry, in conjunction with the Treasury, has cut import duties on hybrid vehicles in order to make them more attractive to the Israeli consumer. The move is in line with measures proposed by the Ministry of Infrastructures, which, as first reported in The Jerusalem Post, has prepared a plan to reduce Israel's oil dependency by 5 percent in the next five years.
The increase in HV vehicles in Israel, while indeed dramatic, lags behind Europe and the US. In 2006, 381 hybrid cars were purchased in Israel, up from 130 in 2005, and only 10 in 2004.
Avi Moshel, in charge of the Environment Ministry's Air Quality department, said that family HV's are the "cleanest" vehicles, in terms of air pollution, that are currently imported to Israel. No Israeli company currently manufactures or designs Hybrid cars. HV's, according to Moshel, produce 30%-50% less air pollution than regular benzene vehicles of the same size.
Their petrol consumption is dozens of percentages less than regular, non-hybrid cards. A hybrid car can switch to its electrically-powered mode during drives inside a city, where a maximum engine capacity is not needed for speed and power, as it would be were the car on an inter-city drive.
Moshel pointed to the high price of hybrid vehicles as the primary reason why HV sales in Israel are very low. Most of the public is also unaware that they can recoup the price of the vehicle by paying less for petrol and wear-and-tear.
The average price of a hybrid car, imported to Israel, would be about NIS 150,000, the price of a top-range normal fuel car. The tax on a normal car could reach up to 84% of the original price of the car.
The Tax Authority, in conjunction with the Infrastructure and Environment ministries, has lowered tax on an imported hybrid car to 30%, Moshel said.
Despite the upbeat news from the ministry, the real heavy polluters on Israel's streets are the public buses and private large trucks. Speaking to the Post, Moshel said that although there were some problems getting the public bus companies to adhere to the stringent guidelines for emissions, "the companies will eventually adhere to the rules."
In October 2006, the Environment Ministry managed to pass a law requiring all public buses to adhere to EU air pollution standards. Although the Egged and Dan bus companies are not importing hybrid buses, which are exceedingly expensive, Moshel said they are slowly importing new buses which adhere to the EU guidelines.
Most of the HV's imported to Israel come from Turkey, Japan, and South Korea. They are assembled at a factory in Nazareth.