Hybrids that Save

Fresno, CA, USA Are you thinking of buying a hybrid to combat the high cost of gas? A new Consumer Reports survey finds one out of three buyers is seriously considering a hybrid. Hybrids do get better mileage, but they're more expensive. So are they real money-savers? Consumer Reports looked beyond the hybrid hype to see which ones pay off.

Toyota dealers say with today's gas prices, they have a tough time keeping Priuses on the lot: "They go rolling off the showroom floor as fast as they come in." A base model Prius that gets 44 miles per gallon goes for around $24,000. That's $5,000 more than a similarly-equipped Toyota Corolla XLE that gets 32 miles per gallon.

To see which is the better deal, Consumer Reports compared the total cost of ownership if you bought the cars new and traded them in after five years. Consumer Reports' Rik Paul explained, "We compared several factors, including depreciation, repairs and maintenance, and fuel costs, based on 4 dollars a gallon and driving 12,000 miles a year."

Despite the extra $5,000 for the Prius, Consumer Reports figures you'd save about $2,000 over five years.

Consumer Reports checked which other hybrids save you money. Paul found, "It really depends on the hybrid. Some will save you thousands of dollars. Some won't save you anything, and others will only save you money if you can get the federal tax credit."

For example, the hybrid Nissan Altima will save you about $1600 after five years with the tax incentive. But without it, the Altima hybrid won't pay off. However, with the hybrid Toyota Camry, you don't need a tax incentive to see big savings. Paul calculated, "If you buy the Camry hybrid instead of the all-gas version, you can save more than $4,000 over 5 years." Consumer Reports says that makes the Toyota Camry the biggest money-saving hybrid out there.

Current federal tax incentives on hybrids range from around $500 for the Honda Civic to more than $2,000 for the Nissan Altima. But you may not qualify if you pay the alternative minimum tax. And be aware, the federal rebates phase out once an automaker has produced 60-thousand hybrids. That's why there are no more rebates for Lexus and Toyota hybrids. And rebates for the Honda Civic hybrid will run out at the end of the year.


From Consumer Reports Magazine issue: October 2008


Interest in hybrids has been on a parallel trajectory with gas prices. Hybrid sales jumped almost 40 percent last year. According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, 32 percent of active car shoppers are considering a hybrid for their next vehicle. And this past summer automakers had a difficult time keeping up with demand for the most popular models.

It would take many years for most hybrids to pay back their premium price just on fuel savings. But fuel costs are only a relatively small part—25 percent—of the overall owner costs in the first five years. Other factors include depreciation, insurance, interest on financing, maintenance and repairs, and sales tax.

In this affordable hybrid analysis, we compared the five-year owner costs of 12 hybrids with those of similar conventional vehicles, using Consumer Reports' new-car owner-cost estimates, introduced in our April 2008 issue.

The Toyota Camry Hybrid, which got 34 mpg overall in our tests, saves the most money, about $4,250 over five years, compared with a similarly equipped four—cylinder Toyota Camry XLE, which gets 24 mpg.

The Saturn Vue Greenline Hybrid can save about $3,000; the Toyota Prius and Chevrolet Tahoe save $2,000 and $1,500, respectively. With tax credits, the Vue and Tahoe come out ahead by about $4,500 and $3,700. Federal tax incentives are no longer available for Toyota and Lexus hybrids.

The Lexus models and Toyota Highlander Hybrid show five-year losses ranging from about $1,250 for the Highlander to $5,500 for the GS. All three are positioned as the flagship models within their model lines and offer extra features and/or performance at a significantly higher price. The Lexus GS 450h, which emphasizes performance over fuel economy, is priced more than $8,000 higher than its all-gas sibling, a hefty premium despite saving about $1,500 in gas over five years. The Highlander Hybrid and RX 400h are priced about $6,000 and $4,000 higher, respectively, than their all-gas siblings.

Posted: September 2008


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