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Hybrid Savings Calculator
Jamais Cascio, 25 Mar 05

hybridcalc.jpgFootprint calculators are a good way to get a sense of how one's lifestyle affects the environment -- a way of making the invisible visible, as we say -- but they often suffer from being a bit too generic, making broad assumptions that may not necessarily fit how you live. Tools for measuring use are helpful, if sometimes awkward (a problem remedied by better ways of presenting information). What we need more of are ways of calculating the effect of specific activities.

Mixed Power, one of the growing number of web sites for hybrid car enthusiasts, gives us a good start with its handy-dandy web calculator, designed to let you figure out just how much you would save by dumping that Canyonero XCM and moving to something without the godzilla-like carbon footprint. Enter the price of gas, the mileage of your current vehicle, how many miles you drive in a given timeframe, and which hybrid you're considering -- HCH, HAC, Insight, Prius, Escape or RX400h -- and your savings will be shown. The calculator tells you how many fewer gallons of gas you'll be consuming, and how much money you'll be saving -- an almost useless figure, since gasoline prices won't remain stable for the full 10 years to which the calculator projects. Fortunately, the calculator also reveals how many pounds of CO2 you will no longer be personally responsible for via your driving -- a number which is of mild interest to most people now, but will likely be a regular part of conversation a decade hence.

We have a well-connected, well-informed network here -- what other environmental/lifestyle calculators have you run across?

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Comments

I highly question the numbers put out by this calculator... I had to do a cost/benefit analysis of a Civic vs. a Civic Hybrid, and by no means does a hybrid vehicle come close to breaking even at this point (At least, with a Civic and Civic Hybrid). Does this calculator take into account the price differential between a hybrid and a comparably equipped standard ICE model? Does it take into account the additional costs of battery replacements? Does it take into account that hybrid's are relatively new, unproven technology? (These are recommended every ten years for the Civic Hybrid, and my guess would be that they cost between $2-$8K). Does it take into account present value? (The $$'s you're saving in the future are less than the $$'s you're saving now...)

I don't mean to rain on anybody's parade, but I'm personally convinced that hybrids generally do not make economic sense at today's current fuel prices, and the way that they're priced relative to standard models nowadays. I'm very much so behind improving fuel economy and trying to wreak less havoc on the environment, but the numbers this calculator is spitting out are simply misleading. Of course, if you're willing to pay a couple thousand dollar premium for your fuel savings, sure...


Posted by: Michael Soto on 25 Mar 05

Michael, it's a very basic calculator. The user inputs the gas price, the mileage of their existing car, and the amount they drive. That's a straightforward calculation of the gas savings in gallons, what that represents in current dollars, and the amount of CO2 that represents.

A more complex cacluator would factor in the federal tax credit, which saves a little money off the purchase price (about $500 if you're in the upper tax bracket), in addition to the variables you mentioned.

The Civic Hybrid, for example, is comparable to EX trim level of a regular Civic Sedan, so factoring in the tax break, it's about a $2,000 premium, plus the differential in sales tax (say $150 on average).

The difference in fuel mileage is 13 mpg. At 15,000 miles per year (US average) and $2/gal gasoline, the simple payback period is a little less than 9 years. But, you need to factor in the higher resale value of the hybrid, if gas prices continue to remain high. If so, then the payback period could approach zero.


Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 25 Mar 05

To Michael--if you play around with the calculator some, the answer seems fairly straightforward: whether a hybrid makes financial sense depends on 1) how much you drive, 2) what your other vehicle choices are, and 3) what you think gas prices will do.

Let's say you expect to drive 2,000 miles a month. Your current car is a gas guzzling SUV -- it gets 15 mpg. You expect gas prices to remain in the $2 to $2.50 range. If you buy a Prius, it will save you $25,000 in gas costs over 10 years, versus hanging onto your SUV. In that case, the hybrid is a bargain: trade your SUV for the Prius, and you come out $25K ahead.

But let's say you only drive 500 miles a month, and are deciding whether to buy a Prius or a used car that gets 30 mpg. In that case, you only save $2,000 over 10 years on gas -- which means that, all else being equal, you come out ahead if the 30mpg car costs $2K less than the Prius.

Of course, as Joseph mentions, the calculator doesn't incorporate resale value, tax breaks for hybrids, delivery charges, future discounting, blah-di-blah. Some of those factors make hybrids more enticing; others (e.g. discounting) may make gas costs seem less important over the long run.

And also remember, the cost of the hybrid engine represents only a fraction of the difference between, say, a Prius and a Corolla. The Prius also has a better options package -- sound system, interior, etc. As I recall, nobody (outside Toyota) is really sure how much extra the hybrid engine itself costs.

But overall, the lesson I draw is this: if you drive a lot, or otherwise would be inclined to buy a gas guzzler, hybrids can pay for themselves easily. If you drive sparingly, or would otherwise buy a reasonably high-mileage vehicle, the hybrid might be more money than it's worth.

Your mileage may vary.


Posted by: Clark Williams-Derry on 26 Mar 05

Here is another calculator by the canadian gov to help thier country meet emission reductions:
http://www.climatechange.gc.ca/onetonne/calculator/english/


Posted by: jf on 26 Mar 05

I don't think that buying an hybrid right now - unless you drive A LOT - is about saving money. It's more about encouraging the technology (being an early adopter) and reducing your ecological footprint.

Maybe in a few years when gas is more expensive it'll be easier to pay back your investment.


Posted by: Mikhail Capone on 26 Mar 05

Well in a few years the tech itself should go down in price. With battery tech the way its going the battery should shrink by about 30-40% and the electric motors cost shoudl go down a fair bit. I expect in 5 years the cost will be 2-3k instead of the 5-6 it is now and by 2015-2020 it should be down to 1000 or less.


Posted by: wintermane on 27 Mar 05

Greetings - No I did not figure in tax credits, maintenance, etc etc. As the previous posters stated, is is a simple calculator.

When I bought my Insight in 2000 gas was $1.00 a gallon and people said "Man, you paid extra for the hybrid technology, you'll never get your money's worth." Thing is - I didn't care. I was saving almost a hundred dollars a month in gas.

Then gas went to $2.00, $2,25 and all of the sudden I wasn't the fool anymore - but here's the irony: I moved 6 miles from my office so now I ride my bike to work (for exercise), the car is paid off, and 20 bucks covers me for a month or two.

Assuming the Hybrids run $2000 over their non-hybrid counterpart, after the tax credit and a few years all things are equal. In the meantime, you've polluted less, set a good example, and have a cool car.


Posted by: Daniel Curran on 28 Mar 05

I did research prior to buying my Civic EX a year ago. Real world fuel economy differed anywhere from 3-10mpg, between a Civic EX and a Civic Hybrid. (I get between 36 and 42mpg). The payback, based on fuel savings, just wasn't there. It worked out to 100's of thousands of miles before you hit the break even point, and that's not factoring in any repair or maintenance to the hybrid portion of the car.

I couldn't find figures for the Honda, but for the Prius, there are $15,000 worth of parts dedicated to the hybrid system. That includes $5,000+ battery pack, motor generator, computers, etc. These prices are what the Toyota dealer charges for replacement, not including labor. That $15,000 worth of parts is in addition to all the other parts one shares with a normal ICE car.

I feel one is taking an enormous risk with a Hybrid. If nothing goes wrong or breaks, one might break even financially between 100-300k miles of use.


Posted by: Fred D. on 31 Mar 05



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