Like all things it depends where you stand. In the UK we have relatively small petrol engines compared to the United States - forced on us by the high price of fuel. So it could be argued that we are already pretty green.
Car manufactures have been recycling product in earnest since the 1980's with Ford and Honda with it's three R's ( reduce, recycle ,reuse) leading the field. However producing a vehicle formed from mostly plastic and metal is not an energy efficient thing to do. When the vehicle produced then goes on to pollute the atmosphere for ten years or so, it's even worse.
But you have to compare that with the vehicles they are replacing. New technology, better catalytic convertors and cleaner engines mean the new car you buy now is up to 2 or 3 times cleaner than one bought 15 years ago. So the message might be - scrap your old car - (the manufacturers now have to help you with this due the EU End of Life Directive) and replace it with a brand new hybrid.
Are hybrid cars the way forward or just a car manufacturers' PR dream?
Are you to believe the hype. With anybody from Bill Gates to Cameron Diaz driving the new Toyota Prius, they are amongst the coolest cars on the planet. But wouldn't you rather drive a Porsche Cayman.
It's difficult to judge how clean these cars really are. With a heavy right foot the manufacturers claimed fuel economy can be blown away. And they are the first generation of this new technology. Once the magic figure of 100 Miles per Gallon is reached on a mass produced car that can seat a family- the car manufacturers will have a winning formula. The Prius is a fine car, the best in it's class. But this is the beginning of the war against climate change not the end. And there are current diesel cars which can beat the economy figures. In fact about 6 years ago I drove a VW Golf GT TDi 150, and it reached a healthy 54 MPG, had under 150 g/km of CO2 emmissions and went from 0-60 in around 8 seconds. Come to think of it , it was about the same price as a Prius or a Civic IMA and three times as much fun to drive.
But back then the social pressure to be green just wasn't there. Your neighbours didn't sneer at you because you left all your empty wine bottles in the bin. You didn't have to have nine different coloured recylcling bins all 'chipped' by Big Brother. So going Green might be the best way forward - avoiding the congestion charges that are spreading around the country and saving thousands of pounds a year. And keeping your hard earned money in your back pocket.
Don't expect a Hybrid car to save the planet. Buy one for its tax efficiency, fuel economy and general feel good factor. But be prepared to sacrifice performance and sometimes looks.