Hybrid Cars Worth the Extra Cost?

By: Lindsay Puccio
By: Lindsay Puccio

February 14, 2006

2006 is expected to be the year of the hybrid car. Even the County of Albemarle bought hybrids. But are they really worth the extra cost? There are both benefits and drawbacks.

"We felt it was an economically good move," said Lee Catlin, the Albemarle County spokesperson.

Last year Albemarle County purchased 4 hybrid cars for their employees to drive. At the time, gas prices were at an all time high and county officials thought hybrids would save them some cash.

Half of their hybrids they bought are Toyota Prius' that use both fuel and a battery but not at the same time. At higher speeds, above 40 miles per hour, the gas engine is used but during rush hour when the car is sitting at idol, the electric motor kicks in, which the county said is saving them money, or is it?

Beginning this year the New Hybrid Car Tax Credit allows a $400 to $3400 tax credit depending on model.

"If you're doing it for the dollars, that's the wrong reason," said Darden Professor Robert Spekman.

Spekman said this technology comes at a hefty price. The Toyota Prius is over $5,000 more expensive than a comparable car.

If you compare a conventional vehicle with the average fuel economy of 21 miles per gallon to a 46 miles per gallon hybrid, assuming you pay $2.20 a gallon for gasoline, (with that price rising 10 cents annually for inflation), it will take the county at least 5 years to break even.

"If gas goes through the ceiling to 8 or 9 dollars a gallon then maybe you make that argument a little bit more compellingly but the way it is now it's just not going to work," said Spekman.

Don't forget about repairs. Hybrid owners can expect to spend more time in the shop and pay larger repair bills since these cars are much more complex. If a battery needs to be replaced, it will cost you over $3,000.

"We really haven't experienced any trouble with any of the vehicles," said Jerry Shatz, the Albemarle County Maintenance Manager.

The county has had the hybrids for about a year now and they said it's not only about the money they may save. "It was not just a financial decision, it was about protecting the environment," said Catlin.

Even Spekman agrees if a consumer is looking to buy a new car for that reason, hybrids are the way to go.

"If you're making a statement about the environment that you want to save the Earth for your children [then] yeah, it's worth it. Is it financially worth it? The jury is out on that," said Spekman.

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