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Should You Buy a Hybrid - Or Wait?


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When is the right time to buy a hybrid? Should you be heading for the showroom now or waiting for the next generation of this technically complex but fuel-efficient alternatives?

A piece in USA Today raises those questions and is worth touching on in this blog, as regular readers know my cautious appreciation of hybrid-electric powertrain technology.

And you know that while I recognize the somewhat intangible value of doing your bit for Mother Earth, I also recommend you consider carefully the real-world economics of going to an HEV. In surprisingly few instances will the often-modest fuel savings actually pay off in terms of lower ownership costs, start to finish. A new study by Consumer Reports backs that up, listing only the Honda Civic Hybrid and two versions of the Toyota Prius in its top 10 list.

But Chris Woodyard's story poses other reasons to wait, notably the assortment of new and supposedly more advanced hybrids that will be coming soon. In many cases, they're cheaper, too, promise manufacturers like Honda and Toyota.

The paper quotes Mary Ann Wright, one-time head of Ford's hybrid program, and now vice president of Johnson Controls' hybrid battery business, noting that the first question asked by its new customer, Mercedes-Benz, was, "How are we going to get the costs out?"

The new hybrid Honda intends to launch next year - effectively its one-off, uniquely designed answer to the Prius - should carry a lower price premium than current models, like the Civic. Honda CEO Takeo Fukui said, in Tokyo last month, the goal was to trim about $900, or 33 percent, out of the hybrid penalty.

New technology may help improve the fuel-economy advantages, though not always the price, of a hybrid. General Motors is today using industry-standard nickel-metal hydride batteries for hybrid versions of the Saturn Vue, Cadillac Escalade, and others, but it will begin phasing in smaller, lighter, and more powerful lithium-ion batteries over the next few years. It expects the switch to boost fuel economy by 20 percent.

Ford expects its 2009 version of the Escape Hybrid to be able to operate solely on battery power in a wider range of driving conditions, also reducing fuel consumption. The revised powertrain will show up on other models, such as the Fusion, in 2010.

So should you buy now? If you truly feel the need to fly a green flag, that may be all that you should consider. Otherwise, study the economics carefully, and if the decision doesn't weigh in favor of going hybrid today, keep checking back to see what new technology the industry will be bringing to market.
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Comments (3)
  1. Should WAIT and keep whatever you have.
    In addition, VERY VERY FEW Private motorists are asuited for a real HYBRID. |Those who do 1. LOTS ans 2. CITY miles. Idf you do a lot of highway miles, you would be a damnwed fool to buy a hybrid, as you would be dragging along a second engine that contributwes LITTLE to your cruise controlled trip.
     
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  2. Since Wired came out with an article describing how the energy required to make a prius offsets the energy you save driving it there really is not an ecological motive to buy a hybrid. I'm personally waiting until 2014 before I make my next car purchase and by then hope to have several options in the plug-in category. I like the idea of not using any gas to run errands or commute. Having said that if I can keep my commute where it is now (200 miles a month on my car) I will not bother buying a new car since I won't drive it enough to justify the depreciation. A used 2008 Explorer should run about 4 grand in 2014.
     
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  3. The hybreds today . . . Prius and others . . . have a battery that has a huge carbon footprint, some say equal to driving a Hummer for a year, before they ever leave the lot. They cost 8 or 10 k more than a similar 4 cyl car. How many years do you think you could run a Focus or Marda 3 with the extra money? Maybe 5 or 6 years!! Plus, the Prius is bone-ugly, drives like a turd, and when it runs out of warranty will be extremely expensive to maintain and repair.
    Better options may be coming in the future, but I will wait and see. I am totally amused by the numbers of folks that run out and spend 15 or 20 k to buy a new car that gets better mileage than the one they have . . . but . . . if the vehicle you have is in good condition, safe and comfortable . . . did you ever figure out how long you could drive it, even at todays gas prices with the money you are spending to save a few mpg?
     
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