When it’s financially better than the alternatives it will catch on…and not until

Is a hybrid car really good for your wallet?

I have no problem with the hybrid car concept as a way to cut dependence on oil and to help keep the environment reasonably clean. The problem is the bottom line. If it’s not economically feasible for the average family to purchase a hybrid, they aren’t going to do it no matter what the gas prices or ozone layer looks like. It’s not because they don’t care about Mother Earth or that they don’t mind paying $2.799 for a gallon of gas. It’s just that they simply cannot throw money away.

According to a recent study by automotive research Web site Edmunds.com that compared the break-even point of owning and driving a number of popular hybrids against conventional gasoline models, hybrid owners would have to drive thousands of extra miles or pay steep prices for gasoline to make up for the additional cost of a hybrid in five years or less.

One exception is the Toyota Prius. Compared with the similarly-sized Toyota Camry LE, over the first five years of ownership the Camry is expected to cost its owner just $81 more than a Prius.

Edmunds.com estimated that the price of gasoline would have to cost at least $5.60 a gallon for hybrid drivers to break even if they drove 15,000 miles a year over the five years.

I drive a base 5-speed Chevy Cavalier. It generally gets about 32 miles to the gallon. This is a real number, as I check it from time to time. It doesn’t have cruise control, and I suspect that that number may be a bit higher if it did as I put in a fair number of my miles on the highway.

And then there’s this about the Honda Civic:

While the Civic Hybrid managed a long-term vehicle average of 38.3 miles per gallon in Consumer Guide tests, a regular Honda Civic EX model with manual transmission, which is cheaper than the hybrid version, clocked up 32.5 miles per gallon — that’s excellent fuel economy, Appel notes.

“With a nearly $2,500 price difference between the two models, these figures show you’re not much better off with a hybrid,” Appel said. “Even if we had gasoline prices move up to $3 per gallon it would take a long time offset that price difference.”

Civic Hybrid drivers may also be short-changed when it comes to performance. While the Civic EX can get from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 9.4 seconds, the Hybrid only manages to get to 60 in 11.6 seconds said Appel. “It’s a serious lag; when you cross the 10 second line you cross the line between fun and practical,” he said. “The EX is fun to drive, but the hybrid certainly is not,” he added.

A big part of why mass transit never really catches on in the US is that most people view their car as more than a method of transportation. And they (we) want a nice car that performs well and is enjoyable to drive.

So even if the cost difference is small many are going to be put off by the lower performance of hybrids. If driving a hybrid was noticeably less expensive, a lot of folks may overlook the lower performance. But few are going to want to pay more for a car than handles worse.

We’re still in the infancy of alternatively-powered cars. Even though great strides have been made, it’s really just beginning to be figured out. And while tax credits should help stimulate sales, this is an artificial price control that isn’t really going to change the industry. If the breaks can buy the time to get the real costs lowered, then they’ll have served their purpose. But until it’s truly and noticeably cheaper to drive hybrids (or electrics or fuel cells or Mr. Fusions) people won’t be doing it.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering why we don’t hear more about a major reason that oil prices are so high. Gateway Pundit has pictures. We’ve seen China’s effect on steel prices. We’re seeing it on oil prices. We’re going to see it on a lot of things.

Also meanwhile, Paul at Wizbang recently noted a number of gaping holes in the 250MPG hybrid story. Whenever gas prices spike we get these types of stories. Not that the project is worthless. Not at all. But it wasn’t reported honestly in the sense that it conveniently ignored other major issues and misrepresented what the real-world performance is/would be.

It seems that I had another link to toss into this post but I can’t remember what it was…Probably something about not enough oil refineries.

UPDATE: Ah. This was what I wanted to link to, as well: Hybrids to be major part of Toyota’s future. They want 25% of their American sales to be hybrids by next decade. That seems about right.


  1. Price is also the reason I don’t take the bus. Stupid CAFE standards increased the bus fare. In regards to the Hybrids, some Prius owners (Dubious Rumor Alert!) claim they can get as good as 100 real miles per real gallon burned…as long as they drive -really- careful like. Normal cars could also get very good mileage if they had similar feedback mechanisms which tell them how efficiently they are driving. Beyond that hybrids work best under city conditions. If you are on the highways alot, diesels are better…specifically I would like to get a used 200X Jetta TDI GLS sedan. Much cheaper than a Prius, the only sedan Hybrid I would consider atm. Ford Escape is nice if you go off the main roads. Plug-in hybrids sacrifice too much precious cargo space. One Canuck tinkerer has recently gotten around that problem by putting solar cells on the roof. Hybrids need improvement, but have tremendous potential. (thin film solar cells and Motor-in-hub wheels, better batteries) BioDiesel Solar Augmented Plug-in Hybrid is what I would really like. There are at least two street racer like biodiesel hybrid cars now hacked together via kits. Google ‘Attack’ and ‘hybrid’ adn ‘BioDiesel’.

  2. Huh. I’m glad the comment area here isn’t full of the knee-jerk, blinders-on folks over at Whizbang! Each and every year from this one on out, buying a hybrid or other alternative powered vehicle will make more and more financial sense for a larger and larger segment of the population. This is unavoidable, and though it may not be here next year, it’s coming WAY WAY faster than most of the folks over at Whizbang have any clue about. Every year, until no modern passenger vehicle maker will make a car that doesn’t have batteries. And I’d bet that very last major company that still sells a passenger vehicle with no betteries or fuel cells will be an American company that will still be selling cars at ‘Employee pricing’ in the hopes of avoiding bankruptcy.

  3. A Honda Jazz with CVT and a regular 1.2(?)L engine drives pretty nicely and gets excellent economy since the engine can operate in its power/economy band most of the time. Plus it’s a pretty cheap car which is small outside but decent usable interior space. Another good alternative. What bothers me more than price with hybrids is availability. I want to be able to walk into a dealership and take one for a test drive, then buy it, like a regular car. (although I don’t tend to buy new cars, I find them too expensive)

  4. Allright! Alternative fuel vehicles that can barely get out of their own way, cost way more than internal combustion engine vehicles, and are ugly as $^&* (OK, we’ve already been blessed with the Pontiac Aztek). I can hardly wait. LOL! PS: Oh, yes I can!

  5. Flanker, don’t 90% of the hybrids out there look visually identical to their IC counterparts?

  6. Hybrids are the glamor children in the auto industry. Right or wrong, American’s equate Hybrids with being ‘environmnental’ and ‘high miliage’, thus are willing to shell out more. Real people don’t do cost benefits tabls on how many miles they would have to drive to make the car pay for itself. As long as it is in thier cost ballpark they are happy. Thus far it looks like Americans are willing to shell out a 10% premium on hybrids. That premium is pure profit. That is why all the car makers are offering these cars. Note to reality checks: How much are car mechanics going to be paid to deal with all these new cars. On the reality side, you can get real performance gains with lightwieght desiels and electric drives.

  7. What’s the best way to save on fuel costs? Hybrids? Driving carefully? Smaller cars? Public transport? personally I like… walking :) It’s slower and requires more effort, but I get the added bonus of not turning into as much of a fat slob as I would if I never got out of the chair. I guess that offsets my fuel guzzling car. Serves me right for driving an American car around a city ;)

  8. The fuel mileage quoted for the ‘plug-in’ hybrids is bogus. They are basically including miles travelled on the plugged in and re-charged batteries along with the miles travelled burning gas, divided by the gas burned. If they only drove very short distances, and only used the batteries that had been charged by plugging them in at home, their ‘Gas Mileage’ would approach infinite. Totally electric cars have such excellent ‘gas mileage’ that they don’t even need gas tanks!