Who Needs a Hybrid?

Many buyers unaware of saving vs. cost

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Wieck
    2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid.

    News headlines and advertising may lead you to believe you need to buy a hybrid, but maybe that's not the case.

    Hybrid cars combine two technologies -- a combustion engine with an electric motor and battery.  The pitch is hybrids save you gas, thus, they save you money.  But the reality can be different.

    As it turns out, the magic number was $4 -- the amount that a gallon of gas was costing Americans, changing their driving habits and making some change their cars, too.

    But as it turns out, many drivers really don't get it when it comes to hybrid savings, according to Jim Kliesch of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

    "Just because a vehicle is badged as a hybrid, does not necessarily mean that you're going to be saving money at the pump or it doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to be doing the environment any favors," he said.

    This is because not all hybrids are created equal.  For instance, some hybrids, Kliesch cites the Prius or civic hybrid for example, do a great job of saving fuel.  In fact, last summer we interviewed a viewer who was charting amazing mileage, saying they got between 56 and 58 miles per gallon on their vehicle.

    But then there are other hybrids,  some SUVs for example, where the electric motor exists mostly to boost power. 

    If the designer of the vehicle chooses not to downsize the engine, then what you have is a vehicle that consumes the same amount of fuel but just is really fast," said Kliesch.

    Money magazine broke down some hybrid numbers in its September issue. It found that if you purchase a $25,000 Toyota Prius instead of a $20,000 Toyota Camry and drove 15,000 miles a year at about $4 a gallon, it takes 4-and-a-half years to recover the higher selling price  of the Prius.

    But if gas gets cheaper,  it takes even longer to make up the difference. So, Kliesch said if you're thinking about a hybrid, you have to do the math.

    When you're on the showroom floor, and you're looking at efficient models, by all means, check out the conventional vehicles because the fact that they don't have  an electric motor,  means they're going to be cheaper.

    So who needs a hybrid? 

    The ideal customer, Is somebody who is planning on getting rid of their vehicle already. It's somebody who is regularly going to drive the vehicle,  somebody who drives the vehicle at a location where gas prices are high, or somebody who just wants to be green.

    "Somebody who's concerned about the environment. That alone, independent of the cost, that alone is a good reason," said Kliesch.

    Many dealers are adding premiums to the retail price of hybrid vehicles, so you'll have to factor that in when you're deciding who needs a hybrid.