The green movement is sexy, but can it get you from the red to the black? Although hybrid cars sound great, their competitive edge isn’t always clear.
The idealist would argue that greener is always better and that although hybrid cars tend to be more expensive, you won’t feel the extra cost because the government provides tax rebates. Plus, you can potentially regain the price difference in gasoline savings.
A cynic would remind us that federal tax credits are being phased out. Once a car maker sells more than 60,000 hybrids, it’s all over. That’s why Toyota and Honda cars are no longer eligible. As for fuel efficiency, there was a whole to-do a couple years ago about whether hybrids really achieve the mileage they claim.
Want to see numbers? Let’s explore a tale of two Camrys. A 2010 hybrid Toyota Camry, for example, currently costs about $26,000 and gets 33 miles per gallon in the city. A regular Camry clocks in at 22 mpg in the city and costs about $19,000. So, you’re spending an extra $7,000 to go green. But, of course, driving the hybrid means you spend less on gas. Say you drive 20,000 miles per year and pay $2.50 for gas, those fuel savings come out to about $750 per year. At that rate, it would take about nine years to make back the price difference. At a price of $3.00 per gallon, it would still take more than seven years to make the money back.
So, you ask, does that mean that hybrid cars aren’t worth the hype?
Maybe. It’s important to remember that not all cars are the Toyota Camry but this is one example and many drivers plan to own their vehicles for nearly a decade. All the same, the reason to buy a hybrid is because you care about the environment. Tax rebates and gas prices justify your decision, but in the end it comes down to social values, not economics. A non-hybrid compact car might actually be more fuel efficient than a hybrid luxury car or SUV. Buying hybrid supports a budding technology—as long as you understand your own motives when you make your decision.