Thursday, November 20, 2008

Another Look at Hybrids

With gas below $4, and in some states below $2, I thought I would take another look at hybrids and their economic efficiency.

While I am not against hybrids per se, I still am not completely convinced that the value proposition is there.

In my previous column about hybrids titled "Hybrids, the Real Deal or Flavor of the Month" and "Hybrid Hummer Hums," I made a general statement about how to determine if the fuel savings of the hybrid is greater than the additional acquisition cost. Also, I recommended using the MPG calculator at http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/savemoney.shtml.

I decided to compare the Toyota Camry and Toyota Camry Hybrid. Here is a table I created using data from an auto buying service. The data surprised me.

2009 Toyota Camry 4dr Sdn V6 Auto XLE (Natl) vs. 2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid 4dr Sdn (Natl)

As configured, the MSRP is $2545.00 greater ($28695.00 vs $26150.00).
Engine Type 6 cylinders standard, versus 4 cylinders standard.
Fuel Economy City 14 mpg lower fuel economy in the city (19 versus 33).
Fuel Economy Highway 6 mpg lower fuel economy on the highway (28 versus 34).
Cruising Range City 216.1 less miles cruising range in the city (351.5 vs 567.6).
Cruising Range Highway 67 less miles cruising on the highway (518 vs 584.8).
Base Curb Weight 164 pound(s) less base curb weight (3516 vs 3680).

What does all of this mean? I couldn't believe that the non-hybrid was $2545 more than the hybrid. But the story doesn't end there.

In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal about small cars, the Journal reports that hybrids are more expensive to own. To me, that didn't seem possible until I read the article.

Insurance for hybrids is more expensive, as are repair parts and labor. "The 2009 Camry hybrid, for instance, costs an average $1,957 to insure for that 40-year-old male driver, while a similar conventional 2009 Camry costs just $1,302, according to Insure.com."

Also from the Journal, "Hybrid cars cost more to insure because they can't [always] use after-market parts, the labor charges per hour are higher, and the they take longer to repair," says Amy Danise, a spokeswoman for Insure.com.

Just when I thought I might buy a hybrid during the gas run up, I am glad I didn't. I had no idea about the insurance issue, but that is why I wrote this article.

I wanted to highlight the need for a smart consumer to perform comparisons based on all of the facts. Many people have bought hybrids to be "eco-chic" or some other non-measurable quality. Others only view the gas savings, but don't know about the insurance hit.

Ultimately, since its your money, you will decide the relative value of each option, but please, do so in an informed manner.

4 comments:

Skyneedle said...

But I can drive my hybrid into DC on the HOV lane with just one person in the car. Try that in your non-hybrid Camry. Also think about the pure electric card like the Tesla or the Th!nk. No transmission, no oil, no gas, no fuel filter - lots of the part and maintenance go away. How many DC motors do you have in your house that work great? Vote with your dollars, encourage technology. Spending some extra money to encourage energy independence is a good thing. Now if only the American car companies can get off their ass and make it happen. The Volt has a lot of promise, but it has to get to market.

WRGII said...

Skyneedle, thank you for your comments.

You highlight that different consumers place value on different attributes. For those who live outside of the DC area, riding single (which is about to phase out) in HOV lanes may be of no value.

An informed consumer is the best kind. As individuals, which make countless economic decisions everyday. Things like whether leave the bathroom light on, or whether to eat a bowl of cereal or hit the drive through.

Ludwig von Mises wrote a thick book about this call "Human Action." Its worth noting, because it highlights the futility of government control of economies.

As the US is about to inaugurate one of the most liberal Presidents in decades, not to mention House and Senate, the US consumer should be wary of any attempt by the new government to control the macro and micro economy.

Bill said...

I think your price comparison is off a bit. The autos.yahoo.com site reveals that while there is only one hybrid model, there are ten non-hybrid Camry models. The hybrid has an MSRP of $26,150 while the non-hybrids have MSRPs from $19,145 to $28,695. The difference is in the optional equipment (too many options to try to sort through it all for a blog comment). I don't believe that the hybrid would cost less than a similarly equipped non-hybrid. How is it possible to take two similarly equipped Camrys and then add a battery pack, electric motor and controllers to one while charging less for it?

As a consumer, my preference would be for cheaper, smaller, high mileage gasoline or diesel cars such as those found in Europe. Even after converting imperial gallons to U.S. fluid gallons these cars get considerably better mileage than the Camry hybrid. Plus they aren't burdened with all the complexity that comes with a hybrid drive system.

BTW, I like your blog.

WRGII said...

Bill, thank you for your kind words.

I picked the particular non-hybrid Camry model because it most closely matched the features on the hybrid model.

The accounting for the price difference is US govt. tax subsidies, and it has theorized that Toyota may be taking a loss on the model.

I am also a fan of diesel. However, the US auto makers destroyed their credibility in the 1980s by building atrocious diesel passenger cars, though the trucks are great. The US consumer, in general, doesn't trust diesel passenger cars, except for Mercedes Benz or Volkswagen.

One hybrid I am very interested in is the hydraulic hybrid. I wrote an article on this blog titled "Hybrid Hummer Hums." Here is the link http://economicefficiency.blogspot.com/2008/07/hybrid-hummer-hums.html

Thanks again for your kind words and let me know if there are any topics you would like me to research and write about!

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