Consumers have traditionally cited high prices as one reason they've put off buying gas/electric hybrid cars. Even many environmentally-conscious drivers feel that Hybrid cars simply aren't worth the extra expense, and prefer to continue using traditional gasoline-powered vehicles until a fully-green alternative comes along.
Honda, Toyota, and some American automobile manufacturers now have hybrid cars available at only a slightly higher cost than their gasoline-only counterparts. In some places, hybrid car owners are also eligible for government credits and tax breaks.
Of course the most important factor in whether or not hybrid cars are truly “worth it” is the steeply-rising price of gasoline. But even at gasoline's current alarming rate, is it worth it to buy a hybrid car?
Conservatively, we can estimate that hybrid vehicles are about $3,000 more expensive than their gas-only counterparts. Looking at long-term operating costs, how long would it take in gas savings to make up for that $3,000 difference?
We'll estimate the current price of gas at $3 per gallon (another conservative estimate, unfortunately.) The average hybrid car gets approximately 50 miles to the gallon (or 50 miles for every $3 spent.) If the average driver puts on 15,000 miles every year, then a hybrid car requires about 300 gallons of gas per year of use. 300 gallons of gas costs $900.
A compact gasoline burning car can get around 35 miles per gallon. To travel 15,000 miles in a year, such a car requires about 429 gallons of gasoline: a yearly gas cost of $1,287.
The difference between annual operating costs in a hybrid ($900 per year) and a traditional gas engine compact ($1,287 per year) is less than $400. In short, it would take almost eight years for a hybrid to “pay for itself” versus a traditional compact when it comes to pure gasoline savings.
Even if we use a gas price estimate of $3.15 per gallon, and say that the driver puts on an extra 10,000 miles per year, we only come out with an annual difference in gasoline costs of less than $700 dollars. In that scenario, it would still take almost five years for a hybrid car to make up for that extra $3,000 in initial cost.
Hybrid cars become even less attractive in light of recent reports about the batteries that power the electric motors used in hybrid cars. These batteries, according to some sources, will only last for eight or nine years before replacement is neccesarry. The cost of replacing the batter in a hybrid car? $8,000 to $9,000.
Of course, most people are primarily considering the environment—not their pocketbook—when they first begin shopping for hybrid vehicles. But considering that hybrid cars do still burn gasoline (and really not that much less gasoline, as evidenced by the meager at-the-pump savings in the aforementioned figures) can the $3,000 in extra cost (and eventual $8,000 replacement battery) really be justified? Is it worth all of that extra money for a consumer to feel like they're doing something good for the environment?
For some, it seems the answer is yes. The rest of the world will likely wait for cars that are truly “alternative.”