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May 25, 2012

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Consumers Say Fuel Economy is the Most Important Factor in a New Car, But How Much Can You Really Save Driving a Hybrid?

by lacarguy

by Zach McDonald: HybridCars.com

A new study released this week by Consumer Reports has found that a full 37 percent of new car buyers look to fuel efficiency as the leading factor in determining which model of car they will buy. According to the publication and consumer advocacy group, two thirds of those surveyed said that they expected their next car will get better mileage than the one they currently own, and a surprising 73 percent of respondents said that they plan to consider alternative-fuel models like a hybrid or flex-fuel vehicle. An even higher number of consumers (81 percent) said that they would be willing to pay extra for a more efficient vehicle if they could recover the extra money in fuel savings. Ninety percent said that cutting down on fuel costs was the most important factor in their decision to seek better fuel economy.

The study comes at a time when fuel prices have fallen off slightly from April highs that neared $3.90 per gallon, but with gasoline still averaging $3.62 per gallon in the U.S., and prices holding steady above $3.00 per gallon for the last year and a half, the data indicates that consumers seem to be adapting the longterm propect that gasoline may never be cheap again.

For the nearly three quarters of drivers who might consider buying an alternative fuel vehicle, the Energy Department last week released a new tool on its FuelEconomy.gov website to help consumers determine exactly how much they can save by choosing a hybrid for their next vehicle. While consumers can already use the website to compare estimated fuel costs of new cars to the average vehicle, the new hybrid-only tool allows for a much more exact estimate of how long it will take a gas-electric vehicle to pay for itself versus a gas-only counterpart. By matching up 19 different hybrid models to their non-hybrid platform-mates, the comparison engine reveals that the true extra cost of owning a hybrid might not be as much as you think.

As GreenCarReports points out, most hybrids come with a more standard options than the base-level, gas-only sedans they often compete with. As a result, a car like the Toyota Prius starts higher than other sedans, but to purchase a similar equipped non-hybrid would usually require climbing up several trim levels, adding a significant extra cost to the vehicle.

For the average driver, the quickest hybrid cost recovery periods belong to the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid (2.1 years,) the Chevy Malibu Eco (2.2 years,) the Toyota Camry Hybrid (2.7 years,) and the Toyota Highlander Hybrid (3.4 years.) Of course, dedicated hybrids like the Prius aren’t included in the tool because they have no gas-only equivalents, but the site does help to demystify the cost equation involved of owning a hybrid.

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