By on May 1, 2015

ONELESSPRIUS_1_400

I don’t know what you’re doing with your weekend, but I’m spending mine driving a Prius from the Midwest to the East Coast. Next week I’ll tell you all about my experience with the car, but I’ll say this: it hasn’t been what I expected. Not that my opinion on the subject matters to Toyota; I’m not a customer for a Prius or a hybrid of any type and I am unlikely to become one until the last car that can beat a Prius around a racetrack enters the loving jaws of the Crusher.

Existing hybrid owners, on the other hand, are near and dear to Toyota’s heart. Unfortunately, that affection is being returned in smaller and smaller doses.

It’s the kind of headline that generates clicks the way a Prius going down a hill generates battery power: Gas price fallout: People trading in hybrids for SUVs. And the facts, in this case, justify the hype:

So far this year, only 45% of people that traded in an environmentally-friendly hybrid car purchased another, according statisticians at Edmunds.com. In 2012, that figure was over 60% and this is the first time it has ever fallen below 50%…

Back in 2012, gas prices peaked at $4.67 a gallon. At that price, it would take five years for owners of a hybrid-powered Toyota (TM) Camry to make up for the $3,770 price differential with the brand’s gasoline-powered model. But with today’s gas prices at $2.27 a gallon, it would take about 11 years.

Admit it, your first reaction to the above was, “How stupid can people be? Do they think cheap gasoline will last forever?” That was certainly my reaction. Although many of the B&B picture me as being just to the right of Attila the Hun, I’m a bit of a closet progressive at times and the image my Brooklyn-born brain conjured up when I read the above was an endless line of fat Walmartians trading in their Hy-Higlanders for Yukon XLs while smugly telling their neighbors, “I reckon gas is gonna be cheap forevah.” It’s the kind of image that is thoroughly satisfying for anybody who enjoys thinking of themselves as smarter than the average American. After all, I would never be that stupid, and neither would you, right?

But what if those stupid hicks who can’t wait to get rid of their hybrids are actually pretty good at doing real-world math? After all, using the Camry analogy provided by CNN, even when fuel is close to five bucks a gallon, you’re still looking at five years to the breakeven point. That’s longer than a lot of people keep their vehicles, so if you’re going to keep your Camry for three years and you don’t think fuel will swing past five or six dollars a gallon there’s probably no point.

The problem with that Camry analogy, however, is the standard Camry four-cylinder gets outstanding gas mileage. Very few cars sold in this country are as good as a four-cylinder Camry at conserving fuel on the move. Are buyers really just trading in Camry Hybrids for Camrys, or are they moving to larger SUVs? That’s not something we can know without access to additional data, and it’s not a conclusion that’s directly supported by the CNN article.

What if that is the case, however? Let’s do a few moments’ worth of math, based on the idea of a 15,000-mile year.

Prius (50mpg) v $2.50 = $750/year
Tahoe (16mpg) v $2.50 = $2,343/year
Prius v $4.00 = $1,200/year
Tahoe v $4.00 = $3,750/year
Prius v $6.00 = $1,800/year
Tahoe v $6.00 = $5,625/year

I don’t think anybody expects gasoline to rise past six dollars a gallon in the next decade, assuming the world doesn’t erupt in flames.

With cheap gas, the Prius saves you $132 a month. With four-dollar gas, it’s $212.50. At six bucks, it’s $318.75. This is what I consider “real money” at all three amounts, but let’s put it in context by looking at how much extra car you could get if you put that same amount of money into paying a five year loan on a more expensive car.

At $2.50, you could afford to pay about seven grand more for your car if it has a Prius-Tahoe fuel advantage. At $4.00, it becomes eleven grand. At six bucks? Nearly seventeen thousand dollars. That, too, is real money. Since even the cheapest Tahoe costs twenty-two grand more than a base Prius, however, we can assume that our Prius-to-Tahoe people are ready to spend extra money to drive a Tahoe and that this additional fuel cost is just more money to burn. The math gets much more complicated when you start comparing fundamentally similar vehicles that are available in hybrid or conventional form. That’s the math that killed the Tahoe Hybrid and it’s the math that would kill it again were GM bold enough to bring it back.

After running about fifty more permutations of the above calculations, I’ve come to believe that people who trade in hybrid versions of Highlanders and Altimas for conventional versions are probably making a solid mathematical bet. And I’ve also come to believe that if you trade in a Prius for a Tahoe you’re going to take it in the shorts no matter what fuel costs are, said shorts-taking still being less than the additional amount you’re paying to drive a much more expensive vehicle in the first place. So our putative hybrid-traders are neither stupid nor bad at math, no matter how you slice it.

No, I think the lesson of the numbers is something else entirely. While looking at my fuel-economy spreadsheet, I kept thinking back to my Audi S5. Driven with some spirit, it had an 18-mpg appetite for fuel. Its supercharged replacement might fool the EPA but it doesn’t do much better in the real world. Nor do all the turbo near-luxury and luxury cars the Germans want you to buy. Pretty much anything that will arouse envy in your neighbors nowadays is also unlikely to do significantly better than 20mpg in the real world of mixed-use commuting and daily operation.

That means five thousand dollars a year or more to keep the tank full as fuel costs rise. Which they will. There is no way around it. If you think gasoline will be two dollars a gallon in the year 2035, you are either a drooling moron or the super-genius who will invent cold fusion and make petrol irrelevant for all but the most committed and particular of motorists.

Five grand a year is twenty-five grand in five years. So when I ask myself, “How much will people pay for the electric version of today’s luxury cars?” I now have a solid answer. And I have a second answer to a different question. The question is: “When will electric cars outsell gasoline-powered cars in the American marketplace?” The answer?

“Not as long from now as you think.”

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157 Comments on “No Fixed Abode: Fruit Flies Of The Marketplace...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    “Nor do all the turbo near-luxury and luxury cars the Germans want you to buy.”

    Ford and GM should not get a pass on this either.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Yea, I would argue Ford/GM/Hyundai’s 2.0Ts are much worse, actually. BMW and VWAG’s 2.0Ts deliver on the promises of turbocharging. Ford/GM/Hyundai’s 2.0Ts get worse gas mileage and are signifantly slower in the real world than Honda/Nissan/Toyota’s 3.5L workhorses. Altima V6 is a second and a half faster to 60 than the Fusion/Sonata 2.0Ts with slightly better gas mileage. Focus ST is exactly as fast as a GTI which is suppposedly down ~40HP, and I believe gets worse gas mileage as well. Etc. etc. Theres a clear hierarchy of turbo engines and if you want to get your money’s worth you have to go with the Germans.

      All that said with Toyota and Honda coming with boost very soon there may be more legit turbo players. But Ford/GM/Hyundai are not them, I wouldn’t touch their turbo engines with a 10 foot pole.

      • 0 avatar
        Steinweg

        Why do you suppose that is? Here’s my theory for everyone who asked: turbo lag was good for fuel mileage. The turbo kind of laid back until you really, really asked for it. But the cheap turbos of today are small and hard charging from the off. They’re not for top end grunt, they’re for off-the-line whoosh. They’re always force-feeding the engine so they’re a drag on fuel economy. But I am only a simple motorhead and not an engineer, I am probably very wrong.

        • 0 avatar
          Felix Hoenikker

          Agreed,
          I test drove the tubo and NA Ford Fusions last year. I felt that the NA 2.5L variant was very balky until you hit 25 mph. On the other hand, the turbo stained at the bit with the slightest pressure on the gas pedal from the get go. In other words, the boost came on instantly from a standstill. IMHO, this is the reason for the shortfall in real world FE with the latest batch of turbo engines.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            I think that is due more to Ford’s 2.5 & 6spd auto combination being one of the more balky, sluggish, and hateful 4-pot slushbox pairings on the market rather than any inherent advantage of the 1.6 turbo. Honda, Toyota, and Nissan at least have 2.5-ish fours with some grunt off the line.

        • 0 avatar
          319583076

          The majority of buyers pay lip service to economy, but they want, and buy, off-the-line whoosh.

          Big turbos with lag require driving skill, which is lacking the majority of buyers as well.

          • 0 avatar

            Don’t look at me; I bought a turbodiesel four-cylinder.

          • 0 avatar

            Torque to me. I may only have 140 hp but the torque is like a steam train on boil. I think VW limits the TDI to 140 hp to avoid excess wheelspin around town :)

            Americans back in the day didn’t buy the flame throwing V8 engines we all imagine. Most of them were 2 barrel motors, big or small block. The 4 bbl cars were not the majority. I recall 2 bbl big blocks…this is what a modern turbodiesel feels like. Massive pull from the bottom- short shift – wheezy at high RPM

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          This. Downspeeding is the name of the game these days. The intent is to create the feel of a larger displacement engine, but take advantage of the smaller actual swept volume when boost isn’t needed. It turns out that most people ask for the boost more often than not.

        • 0 avatar
          senador

          McLaren, Ferarri, and Porsche solved that issue with the P1, LaFerarri, and 918. These are PLUG IN HYBRIDS. They use the instant torque from the electric motors for off-the line grunt and high HP gas engines for upper end speed. They also can work all all-electric.

        • 0 avatar
          baconator

          Maybe, but I suspect there’s more to it. I’ve put ~15k miles on my 2014 VW Passat with the AE888 1.8T motor. I wouldn’t say that it has significant boost lag above 1300 RPM – feels very similar to the 1.6L Fusion I cross-shopped it with. Driven basically however I feel like driving it, the Passat gets 28MPG just like the EPA sticker promised, and it gets 33-38 on highway cruises.

          I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the fuel economy.

      • 0 avatar

        I do agree. The way to get good gas mileage in most four-cylinder gas engines is inconsistent with how most people drive. I can’t say I wouldn’t just skip the turbo-four gas engines and pick something with a V6…like an Accord. When I drove an Accord V6, I got *way* better fuel-economy both in and out of town than I did in a Fusion Titanium.

      • 0 avatar
        3XC

        Any “moneys worth” analysis should include the costs to maintain and possibly repair your vehicle, and a Ford or Hyundai is going to come out ahead of a VW or BMW every single time. Not to mention an apples to apples comparison of 2.0 turbo fours is unfair when you’re comparing a 3 series and a Sonata. You will never close that 15,000 dollar price difference if fuel costs are your only measuring stick.

      • 0 avatar
        TW5

        The only difference between German turbos and Ford turbos is that the Germans never pretended their turbos were fuel efficient. The current GTI gets 25/34. Barely better than the Focus ST and barely better than the old 5spd turbo GTIs from 15 years ago.

        European engines are not that great, unless you want more than 8 cylinders. For all intents and purposes, the same engines can be purchased from Japanese or American manufacturers, and they will be more reliable than comparable German equipment.

        What European manufacturers still do best is coach-building and chassis tuning. Everything else they make is just adequate or subpar.

        • 0 avatar
          Fordson

          You’re wrong. Edmunds had a 2013 Focus ST for 20k miles. It averaged 23.3 mpg. They now have a 2015 GTI, and it’s averaging 26.2 after 9k miles, with the same drivers and exact same kind of driving.

          • 0 avatar
            Ooshley

            Crikey, my ST was only that bad when I went thru a stage of largely doing 5 min hops, which rarely saw it even get up to full operating temp. Now I get 27+ MPG all day long and that’s with some burst of spirited driving thrown in. I’m no hypermiler but I do drive strategically to minimise coming to a complete stop, coast in-gear to decelerate gently, etc. just sensible stuff instead of the way see most other people bouncing on and off their pedals.

      • 0 avatar
        James2

        I could Google it, but anybody do a dyno test of a GTI? BMW’s numbers are deceptive; I’ve read numerous times that they under-rate their turbo engines. VW could be playing the same game, which is confusing –as in, why not advertise a larger number?

        • 0 avatar
          Fordson

          Same as BMW. A good rule of thumb for VW is whp is around the same as advertised crank hp, and wheel torque is even slightly better than that advertised at the crank.

          That’s why a new GTI is as fast or slightly faster than a Focus ST.

        • 0 avatar
          Wheatridger

          So the same engine can be listed more powerful in the Audi.

  • avatar
    jmo

  • avatar
    jmo

    “assuming the world doesn’t erupt in flames.”

    The world? Maybe not. The Middle East? I think that’s a safe bet.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Buying a car has little to do with the kind of rational thinking about gas mileage shown here. Only hidebound accountants with dusty spectacles actually act this way, everyone else has their own precepts. If you’re a vegan tree-hugger you’ll buy a Prius anyway. If you’re a knuckledragger then a chrome-encrusted pickup with snowplow attachment points and a flashing amber light on the roof among the various “auxiliary” deer-jacking lights is just the ticket.

    The rest of us buy what we like at the time and invent justifications to explain our choice to friends and colleagues. The second-hand crowd are especially good at this, witness numerous comments here about how brilliant they consider themselves to be.

    Nobody really cares what the other person does except as an excuse to pour scorn on other people’s choices on Internet sites for nothing more than righteous-feeling sport.

    • 0 avatar
      senador

      I agree with you. Emotion has a great deal to do with why we buy cars. Mustangs Vs. Camaro, F150 Vs. Silverado Vs. Ram. I think people just want to feel good about themselves so instead of feeling good about their car choice they also feel they have to degrade other people’s car choice. Honestly 99% of car purchases are poor financial decisions they rarely appreciate. If it were solely about money people would only buy the cheapest Life Cycle Cost car and nothing else.

      I think cars are like religion. There are a number of zealots and there are a bunch of people who only buy what they know.

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      WMBA – Truth.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      Certainly, few buyers consider the extended fuel costs of a given vehicle. At most, they’ll consider the number(s) on the Mulroney sticker and weigh that single amount along with their other considerations like safety, prestige or what they need the vehicle for.

    • 0 avatar
      Domestic Hearse

      wmba, very true.

      The question then, assuming the invent-your-rationale-for-a-car-purchase vs Jack’s financial justification and spreadsheet analytics, is what’s going on in the minds of current hybrid traders today?

      Sure, cheap gas makes the hybrid price premium harder to justify.

      But, as you state, those original hybrid buyers had a rationale for buying a hybrid in the first place several years ago. And for many, the hybrid was a statement vehicle: I’m-an-environmentally-conscious-and- ecologically-aware-person-and-I-recycle-and-I-drive-a-hybrid emotional justification.

      So why are they shifting away from this hybrid-as-statement mindset/justification?

      Has the hybrid lost its statement/self-identity luster? Are hybrids too commonplace and hybrid owners just don’t feel quite as morally justified — and separate from the rest of us — in paying the hybrid premium?

      Or is it simple economics: The Great Recession has left buyers with less to spend, so they’re opting for cheaper gas-sipping models?

      And to Jack’s Tahoe example, might hybrid traders be thinking, “Doesn’t make any difference anyway. There’ll never be energy independence. Rational energy/Middle East policy. And there’s not enough of us hybriders to affect any significant change. Screw it; I’m gonna roll in a Tahoe and ride Peak Oil like a surfer on a wave.”

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      If you pay attention to the numbers, you’ll realize that some cars will basically pay for themselves, depending upon the comparison and the intended use.

      Doesn’t everyone like free stuff or cheap stuff?

      The difference in behavior is attributable to the suggestibility of the person. If you’re easily persuaded by marketing narratives, you’ll definitely own newish, rapidly-depreciating vehicles, and you’ll trade them frequently for the newer vehicles with more social capital.

      If you’re an enthusiast, you’ll have a think about the purpose of owning vehicles and what you want them to do. Your patterns of behavior will probably deviate considerably from the advertising narratives and cultural paradigms.

  • avatar
    FThorn

    I liked my 2001 (first year of USofA generation Prius) 50 mpg overall lifetime FE. (Fuel Efficiency) (not “gas mileage)

    It kept me injury free when a semi-truck hit me at 55 mph. Cop took me back home to pick up another car, and my delay to work was an hour.

    Wife encouraged me to get bigger car.

    But I loved the little thing. 1,000 miles to Florida on two tanks, or aka 20 gallons of gas, is nice.

    Had the i3 for BMW’s offer to every American of an Extended Test Drive (google it) this week. I like that too.
    And at $199 per month, 24 month lease, zero due at signing (hand over tax credits), it’s not even about fuel (read: gasoline) savings. $199 per month. And I can beat 95% of cars in daily traffic. BMW’s fastest car 0-30 mph!

  • avatar
    Hummer

    Don’t forget the new Tahoe is 16 city 23 highway, 18 combined, the gas differences start changing rapidly when your in the lower numbers.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      Sometimes it frustrates me that a full-size SUV could potentially get the same or a little bit better MPG than my compact CUV. Then I remember how much I paid for my car vs. a new Tahoe and my frustrations are gone.

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        No kidding, GM lost easily 100k sales with the massive price increases they have done on these. If these still related in price to the trucks, there’d be a lot more sales.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          The problem is if they sell to many Tahoes/Suburbans they can get themselves in CAFE trouble. So price them high to maximize the per unit profit while preventing them from selling enough to hurt them with CAFE. Overall they are probably doing very well they upped the profit per vehicle somewhere in the range of $10-$15K per unit which should more than make up for the lost sales without jeopardizing their CAFE status.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            The pricing helps to position them as quasi-luxury vehicles. In this case, that’s a smart idea; lower prices would damage the brand equity of the nameplates.

      • 0 avatar
        KixStart

        DrZ: “Sometimes it frustrates me…”

        Don’t confuse the test MPG with what’s likely to be achieved on the street.

        Fuelly says the Tahoes are getting 16-17 MPG while the Honda CR-V does 25-26.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        The only way you are getting 23mpg in a Tahoe is at 55mph with the cruise on in mild weather. And the road had better be flat. I had one as a rental last year, and despite the fact that I generally drive rental cars like my Grandmother on Sominex, I got 17mpg out of the thing in suburban highway driving around Houston. Call it 1-2mpg better than my old Range Rover. Put the typical lead-footed Soccer mom in one and you would probably see 12mpg. And at these numbers, 6mpg HUGE.

        The one hybrid in my family was bought because the form factor was the right fit for the job – Mom has a Prius-V to cart aged grandparents and dog around in. The 45mpg no matter what is a bonus. The fact that Toyota was giving them away at $5K off at the time was nice too.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    Two problems with the current Prius: it hasn’t been updated in a long time, and it’s one size class down from a hybrid’s sweet spot. It makes more sense to hybridize a mid size sedan since its fuel use is greater. It’s nice to get 40+ mpg in a Camry-sized car.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      The prius is midsized in terms of interior space, in most dimensions. I rather enjoyed my time with a 2013 rental, especially given the route: driving 1.5 hours and back on flat interstate in the Midwest for work. I also like the hatchback form factor, very practical. With so many non-hybrid cars gaining lifeless electric steering and CVTs, might as well drive a hybrid while you’re at it.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      It’s a fantastic transportation tool with great interior packaging that has been incredibly durable and marketable. I personally found it to be a booming, tiring shell of tinny doors, horrible interior plastics, aged digital displays tugged around by a dead-slow and irritating powertrain.

      Getting one of these things to move around like even a modestly powered gas-only car requires deep digs of the right foot followed by all kinds of delayed and non-linear responses and rackets.

      A similar fuel cost calculation as Jack’s above for the Prius vs. a normally powered ~$23K would never give me numbers worth buying the Prius for unless all of my miles were low-speed urban creep.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        “booming, tiring shell of tinny doors, horrible interior plastics, aged digital displays tugged around by a dead-slow and irritating powertrain.”

        All valid points. On level ground, with the cruise control set to 72mph, the powertrain was a non-issue. I’m one of those people that doesn’t get too bent out of shape about interior trim as long as it is sturdy and well put together. I have a big beef with the lower dash on my gf’s 2012 Camry, it creaks and groans when you rest your knee against it, and has some very noticeable gaps in assembly. This has been corrected for the 2015 refresh, along with much better feeling HVAC knobs.

        If I had 23k to spend at the Toyota dealership, I’d see if I could swing a Camry XLE with heated leather seats rather than a fairly basic Prius. Or save $5k and just buy a basic Camry LE, which has a much more satisfying powertrain (as far as responsiveness), and a quieter more composed ride than said Prius. Or go across the street to Honda and just buy a 6spd Accord Sport :)

      • 0 avatar
        ttacgreg

        Not sure where you get the delayed response perception. In my experience, the electric motor in my Prius provides the same instantaneous response as the Tesla I drove, only lots less of it of course. When the ICE spools up, then it backs off on the electric, and starts recharging the battery right away. The energy flow display is fascinating to watch.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      Hybridizing a sedan costs you some trunk space. The purpose-built Prius maximizes the utility and the fuel economy and those are the things that sell the car to people that will buy it.

      We have one. I don’t mind the looks, the interior is perfectly satisfactory, it’s roomy (we have tall adult kids as passengers often enough) and the utility of the hatch can’t be beat, except by a wagon.

      However, the decline in gas prices means that, were I to be shopping today, I’d be more likely to consider a Prius V and trade some fuel economy for more utility.

  • avatar
    senador

    Actually a used Prius makes a ton of sense financially. A certified used prius can be half the cost (thank cheap gas) and still get 50 mpg.

    If you are commuting over 70 miles per day then the payback is very quick with used. Plus its a reliable they use them as Taxis and they easily can go over 300,000 miles with the original battery.

    Don’t forget that in CARB states the battery is warrantied for 10 yeas or 150,000 miles.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      “Don’t forget that in CARB states the battery is warrantied for 10 yeas or 150,000 miles.”

      No my wonderful state WA has adopted CA emissions requirements but not CA emissions durability requirements.

  • avatar
    slance66

    I don’t see the electric versions making a push until range gets to 500 miles and chargers are everywhere. Here on the east coast, that’s never. They are also lousy snow vehicles.

    Cheap gas helps, but the Tahoe example is absurd. Nobody who bought a Prius switches to a Tahoe. They buy a CR-V or similar. What’s the math on that? Small CUVs are stealing these sales, not truck based SUVs. The winter we just had may play a role in the switches.

    As for the turbo 4s, the current 328 gets better mileage in the real world than my E90 with the 3.0 straight six. It’s not a massive increase, but it is better.

    • 0 avatar
      smartascii

      In my experience on the routes I drive (hilly mix of interstate and 2-lane), it’s a solid 5-6 MPG improvement. But if I could trade that improvement back for decent build quality, driving enjoyment, the ability to get AWD with a stick, and an inline 6, I’d do it in a second. They’re selling a bunch of them, though, so apparently everyone else disagrees with me.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      >>> I don’t see the electric versions making a push until range gets to 500 miles and chargers are everywhere. Here on the east coast, that’s never. They are also lousy snow vehicles.

      Where do you get the idea they’re lousy snow vehicles? I had no problem this winter with an EV in one of the snowiest areas north of Boston. I’d put a Tesla dual motor against just about anything on the road in snow.

      At least in the Boston area, charging stations are getting close to being damned near everywhere. So, there is definitely progress.

  • avatar
    mr.cranky

    TL:DR- People who buy hybrids are dummies that can’t do real world math.

    I say, drive and let drive. I don’t trash people who drive gas guzzlers as much as I once did. It’s much easier to just do my own thing.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      This is one of the things that is wrong with the Obama regime’s CAFE standards. We’ll all be paying for why-tech whether we want it or it makes sense. Well, we won’t all be paying for it. Plenty of people will be nudged out of the middle class by the increase in costs, so getting to work will be the least of their concerns.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        CAFE was instituted in 1975, and amended in 2007 during the GWB administration. Administrative changes made during the Obama administration have been favorable to larger vehicles.

        • 0 avatar
          Dan

          Complete and utter bullchit.

          The 2007 law change began phased in increases towards an eventual goal of 35 MPG by 2020.

          Obama’s “administrative changes” in 2011 moved those goalposts to 35 MPG by 2016, roughly 41 mpg by 2020, and 54.5 MPG by 2025. Those changes are harsher on cars than they are large trucks but both cars and trucks are much more severely regulated than under the 2007 version of the legislation.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            Don’t hold it against him Dan. Ignorance is the most excusable reason for supporting the dismantling of our freedoms and economy at this point.

          • 0 avatar
            FormerFF

            My statement is factually correct. CAFE came into being during the Ford administration, and was revised with increases during the GWB administration. CJ makes it sound like the Obama administration made it out of whole cloth. And, yes, those changes agreed to my most of the automakers in 2011 do favor larger vehicles.

            Better to enrich automakers than oil despots. (Yes, I know most of our imports are from Canada and Mexico, but that doesn’t mean our purchases don’t support the rest of the world’s oil market.)

      • 0 avatar
        KixStart

        People aren’t being nudged out of the middle class by CAFE, they’re being pushed out by extortionate demands for corporate profits and stagnating median wages.

        Some time ago, Dilbert made reference to sending jobs to “the miserable country of the month” and that wasn’t imaginary. That’s a huge change and it’s pushing down the labor market here.

        Meanwhile, average income is going up because the guys at the top and the owners are pulling more profit and taking bigger executive salaries and bonuses which, thanks to tax cuts for the wealthy, they get to keep in greater proportion.

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          I live in a state where you’d need a low two digit IQ not to notice that the left is using delta smelts and desert tortoises to justify crushing the middle class. ‘Income inequality’ is rife under Obama’s fascism, but that doesn’t open your eyes to who is building your cage. Smart. How do you like Baltimore? There aren’t any conservative bogey men left to blame there. It is the future you strive for.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            If you’re blaming “the left” and regulatory burden for the issues of the middle class, you’re missing the two elephants in the room. First, tax policy has changed radically over the past 35 years, under both parties but faster under Republicans, in a way that has made it much easier for business to avoid sharing the proceeds from productivity gains. This benefits shareholders. But… second, executives have gotten much more effective at avoiding any sort of real accountability to shareholders of publicly traded companies, and have found ingenious ways to ensure that disproportionate amounts of those same productivity gains are paid to them in the form of ludicrously high compensation.

            TL, DR: business makes productivity improvements, which ideally should be shared between employees, management, and owners. Tax policy gives them all to owners. Management figures out how to steal some of them from owners. Employees get nothing.

            Regulatory burden is a real problem for small businesses, but most of the economy is big business, and for big business it’s usually a trivial cost.

          • 0 avatar
            ttacgreg

            I strongly recommend that you go to a dictionary and look up the word fascism.

        • 0 avatar

          that, and outsourcing by importing the cheap labor, which is Obama’s approach

          • 0 avatar
            KixStart

            Outsourcing/importing cheap labor began in earnest about 15 years ago.

            It has little to do with Obama and everything to do with a business-led cramdown on the middle class. Businesses certify they need an H1B to fill a niche, especially in data processing, which could be as easily satisfied by a US citizen with a good book on whatever the technology of the day is.

            It’s often penny-wise and pound-foolish, though. In my experience with outsourcing, a project will now soak up far more soft costs and use far more hours of direct labor, just at a cheaper rate on the direct costs.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      Said this before on this site, and will say it again.
      I would rather my money go to Japan for sophisticated machinery rather than to the fossil fuel industry. I happen to really like my booming tinny econobox, it is a very remarkable and superlative example of cutting edge automotive engineering.
      Yup, it does not ride & drive like a BMW. Did anyone expect that? Did Toyota promise that?

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        That’s great. I would rather my money buy the type of car that I want. It doesn’t have anything to do with you, nor does your purchase with me.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        This is an interesting point. If a hybrid breaks even, but by having a higher purchase price in exchange for lower fuel costs, which is the better outcome? Dividing the money in half between Middle Eastern potentates and US-based oil companies, or sending all the money to a big Japanese company?

        I don’t think it actually would make any difference, but I viscerally hate the fact that we have to support a state as repressive and backward as Saudi Arabia, so it might still affect my decision on an emotional level. (Remember, by any reasonable measure, citizens are more free under the revolutionary mullahs in Tehran than under the House of Saud. That’s not to say anything good about the Iranians. The Saudis really are that repressive.)

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    As a C-Max hybrid owner, I can tell you that the fun of a hybrid is not just in the dollars you save on fuel. If you buy a Dodge Hellcat, you have limited opportunities to really see what it can do. On the other hand, I can test my ability to wring MPG out of the C-Max most of the time. The C-Max has one thing over the Prius: it’s actually a little faster than the average car, so it’s great on on-ramps and to hit holes in traffic. C-Max sales are down more than Prius sales though. Where Toyota has the most to gain in market share is the Prius V. The Prius V was thrown together with an only slightly modified version of the powertrain from the Prius hatchback. They should take the powertrain out of the Camry hybrid – or something in between for the V, and it would be a better-rounded car.

    • 0 avatar
      Chocolatedeath

      I rented a CMax for about a week two years ago and its interior is IMO far better than the Prius as well as the overall quality. The ride and handling are like a regular sporty car. Now cargo space is compromised but at this point everyone knows that it was slapped together to sell here. I averaged if I remember correctly about 43 MPG overall for a week. I like so much I wish it was about the size of a FLex..lol

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      Back when the original Honda Insight came out, Patrick Bedard did s piece in Car and Driver about how much he was enjoying driving it: http://www.virtualflint.com/insight/articles/cardriver12002.html

      I drive about 12,000 suburban miles per year, plus another 1500 or so on the highway. Up until last year I drove a 2002 Focus with a 5MT. In my suburban driving, it typically got right at 25 MPG, unless it was unusually cold or hot, or if traffic was especially bad. Last year I sold it and bought a PHEV Fusion. Now, I don’t typically drive many local trips in hybrid only mode, but when I have, the trip computer reports something around 44 MPG. Looking at Fuelly, I’d say I could count on at least 42 MPG in town if I had the non-plug in version. Also looking at Fuelly, it appears that the most I could expect from a conventionally powered mid size sedan is 24 MPG. The current price difference bewteen a Fusion SE and a Fusion SE Hybrid is $2345. For my local driving, the payback period would be 4.3 years at today’s gas price of $2.50. I’m guessing gasoline prices will be around $3.25 in this area over the next few years (it was $3.70 last year at this time), and at those prices the payback period is only 3.3 years.

      I daresay that the hybrid is a better intown ride. It’s quieter and smoother, and more tranquil feeling. The CVT delivers torque seamlessly, and the regenerative braking keeps the wheels clean as well as saving gas.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        The quieter and smoother thing is certainly a nice advantage. My wife has a 2010 Fusion hybrid but last week she needed to pickup 4 people and their luggage at the airport so she took one of our kids Panthers. When she got back she asked why does it idle so high and it was the civilian model she took, which used to be hers, not the P71. Fact is she has gotten used to engine off when stopped or coming to a stop so any engine running in those situations seems strange to her now. I have to wonder what she would think about driving a regular 4cyl car with their even higher in gear idle speed than the civilian Panther’s 625rpm.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      One of the big reasons there’s a C-Max instead of a Prius/C/V parked outside is its combination of superior chassis dynamics and more pleasant interior; it’s much quieter than any model of Prius we test drove during the ’13-’14 year period, and fitted with some of Goodyear’s tricky and sticky winter tires this season I ended up performing some really stupid maneuvers at speed with little to no drama.

      Plus those moments when the ICE is running and you ask for full torque from the electric motor are especially entertaining; I never experienced anything approaching that level of “whee!” from the Prius models.

  • avatar
    Dirk Stigler

    The part where people buying cars are bad at math is that many will calculate nothing but the difference in gas prices, never internalizing that gas is a pretty small piece of TCO for any vehicle.

    Another factor is that a lot of those SUVs and minivans that get mpg in the low teens are really only being driven 4-6k miles a year in the mom-mobile role. At which point the 10-15mpg penalty REALLY doesn’t matter compared to the need/want for hauling space, fitting in multiple car seats, towing a boat etc.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      “Another factor is that a lot of those SUVs and minivans that get mpg in the low teens are really only being driven 4-6k miles a year in the mom-mobile role. At which point the 10-15mpg penalty REALLY doesn’t matter compared to the need/want for hauling space, fitting in multiple car seats, towing a boat etc.”

      This. We traded a small car (though not very fuel efficient, 2.5L Jetta) for a CUV (Acura RDX) so on the surface we’re “hey, cheap gas, let’s buy an SUV!” fools. But at the same time, we moved MUCH closer to work, trading a 60+ mile/day commute for a <20 mile/day commute, and essentially immunizing ourselves from the effects of gas prices. It would have to go to $10/gal before we noticed it in our current budget.

      • 0 avatar
        slance66

        This is odd. I commute to work (3.5 miles) and put 7-8k a year on my car. My wife, who takes my daughter school, volunteers at the school, does girl scouts, does all our shopping etc. puts about 18-20k a year on her car.

        But yes, I’m ok with iffy mpg in my vehicle. My brother in law went from a job that put 35-40k a year on his car (and he was reimbursed for mileage) to about 10k. His Camry Hybrids allowed him to turn a profit on that reimbursement. Now he has an F250.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      What minivan gets in the low teens, and what mom mobile only gets driven 6000 miles? Ours got 17 in town and was driven about 13 k per year, and most of our friend’s vans get driven more.

      • 0 avatar
        mcarr

        “What minivan gets in the low teens?”

        My wife’s Town and Country. When she drives it, the average MPG’s drops like a rock. Short trips, and driving style.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          This. My Forester XT (rated at 17 in the city) gets 19-20 mpg when I drive it normally and about 16 mpg when my wife drives it normally. She’s just not that smooth on the throttle, and takes a lot of short trips.

          • 0 avatar

            Yup. I get 17 mpg from the MDX. Stop and go, hills, burbs. 20 mpg highway if wife drives. I’ve seen 16 mpg driving like it was a sportscar.

            The TDi gets 39 mpg. If I drive like grandma, I get 40. If I spank it, 38 mpg.

            I drive however I feel in the TDI

    • 0 avatar
      LeMansteve

      I think most people start with fuel cost because it is straightforward and all the data is easy to get. You know how many miles you drive, you know the price of gas, and today every car brags about its “MPG ratings”. The next easy one is “what’s my monthly payment going to be?”. Change in insurance can be easy, too. Just call your insurance provider and give them the year, make and model you are shopping for.

      However, not everyone understands how to account for the largest cost of ownership – depreciation. When an 8yr old car needs a surprise $2,000 repair, I think many people convert that repair bill into a new car payment and ignore the depreciation cost.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        “However, not everyone understands how to account for the largest cost of ownership – depreciation. When an 8yr old car needs a surprise $2,000 repair, I think many people convert that repair bill into a new car payment and ignore the depreciation cost.”

        IMO, depreciation is the single most overstated cost of car ownership. If you have an 8y/o car, especially one you bought new, it’s paid for. You’ve already incurred all the depreciation. What’s to consider? “Do I want to spend $2k fixing the car, or $30k on a new car?” Where does depreciation fit in? You’re already accounting for the purchase price as a whole sunk cost ($30k) so I don’t need to account for depreciation on that calc.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          To follow S2k Chris, for me any trade-in value of the 8-year-old car is a bonus; I always go in to the dealership looking at what I can get for my money without considering the trade-in. They don’t like me for that, but there’s nothing they can do about it until after the initial negotiations are completed. In fact, I tend to get more out of direct sales to an individual than I do as a trade-in unless the dealership is really trying to move a vehicle.

        • 0 avatar
          LeMansteve

          S2k Chris, when faced with the decision on where to put your money, I was presenting 2 alternatives:

          1. Spend $2,000 to repair the 8yo car that is nearing the bottom of its depreciation curve.
          2. Balk at the $2,000 repair and instead buy a new car “because that’s 10 months worth of payments!”, not accounting for the fact that it might depreciate $2,000 in its first year.

          I feel that most people view the #1 as the most expensive option, when in fact it usually isn’t.

          • 0 avatar
            S2k Chris

            And why should they? Depreciation is a non cash expense. Assuming you keep the car until it’s paid for, you’ve realized all the depreciation (doesn’t matter that it didn’t track linearly with payments) and any resale value is a bonus.

          • 0 avatar
            Quentin

            How exactly do you not do the $2k repair and still get full trade-in value? You’re giving up the $2k somewhere… unless it is something that needs an expensive fix and you can manage to hide it from the new buyer. In the age of the car telling you what is wrong with it, that is a pretty unlikely scenario.

            I’ve sold a reasonably new car that gave me a slew of consistent problems and I saw no sign of that trend changing. It was a 2007 GTI w/ 58k miles on it (owned since new). It spent an average of 1 month/yr in the shop for the near 4 years I had it. I basically determined that I no longer wanted/needed the car and I didn’t expect it to age any better than it had been, so it was time to cut out while I could still get good money for it.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Depending on their situation, you’d be surprised about that, LeMansteve. #1 is the least expensive option, if you can’t afford a $2K lump sum. Moreover, for the first 3 years/36,000 miles/5yrs/60,000 miles, etc., any major repair costs are eaten by the manufacturer, not the buyer and that’s better than an insurance policy as far as the consumer is concerned. It may be more expensive in the long run, but it’s effectively cheaper when you simply don’t have two grand in cash on hand.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @Dirk Stigler: You’re making too many invalid assumptions in your argument, not the least of which is assuming that people buying cars ignore the TCO. My example below clearly shows that a Tesla Model S could have saved me the full purchase price of the car I was driving at the time, though its very high up-front price itself would have taken the car out of the running at that time considering my pay scale. On the other hand, the technology itself is still well exemplified by my example as a BEV version of what I was driving would have still saved me $10,000 over the course of four years even after a $10K to $15K BEV premium on the cost of the car itself. Add to this that BEVs tend to be more reliable overall (many of those so-reviled, so-over-hyped Tesla repairs being preventative rather than true repairs) and the TCO drops drastically compared to ICE vehicles and even hybrids.

      You also grossly misunderstand “Mom-mobiles”. They get driven far more than the daily commuter as they’re running several times each day compared to a simple out-and-back for a commuter. Said “Mom-mobiles” will easily accumulate 200 miles or more per week, adding up to 10K miles or more–double your low-ball estimate. That means the expense of a Mom-mobile in monthly operating costs has to be taken into consideration in any household budget. Fortunately, Mom-mobiles offer significantly better fuel mileage than they used to.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Like my grandfather who bought a Mercury Bobcat during the 1970s fuel crisis, then returned to a Continental Town Car shortly thereafter, many people are discovering that it’s better to buy what they want when they can afford it than buy specifically for frugality when they don’t need to.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Funny that. My father had a couple of dalliances with small fuel efficient cars during the 70’s and 80’s. Invariably the next car would be a Chevrolet Caprice or a Buick LeSabre – and the life span of the small fuel efficient car was about 12-15 months.

      No sense in buying what you can’t enjoy driving.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      This, if your not happy, what’s the point? Better to do what you enjoy and pay a small premium than be bored saving a negligible amount of money.

  • avatar
    smartascii

    People’s fixation on gas prices is one that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. If your average car takes 15 gallons to fill, and you do that once a week, we’re talking about $60/mo for ever dollar that gas prices change. This isn’t nothing, and I know some people need it, but in the context of the new car market, where people are spending an average of >$30k on cars, plus insurance, plus registration, etc., I mean, who cares? If you really are hurting because of what it costs to fill up your car, you’re probably not a new-car shopper, or at least, you probably shouldn’t be.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      The world would be different if all prices were as transparent as retail gasoline prices. Gasoline prices are posted on a big sign by the street.

    • 0 avatar

      You need to hike them substantially to change our fleet permanently. Euro cars, fleets, and practices all revolve around 10/gal fuel. Rented two 3 series cars in Germany, one gas and one diesel. By the end of the trip, Berlin to The Bodensee and back again, the gas car took a tank and a half more than the diesel. Prices were exactly the same, but at $120 per tank, we “saved” $180.00 driving diesel. This is why the V6 and V8 gas cars we see in German brands, for all intents and purposes, Do Not Exist in the home country. I went to a BMW dealer in Germany. There were about 60 cars on the lot, TWO of which were gas…a used e46 wagon, and a new 335i with every option possible as a sales floor attraction. Every other car, from 116d to 535d (manual, GT hatchback), burned oil.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Hybrid sales are down and SUV sales are up. But that does not necessarily mean that hybrid owners are trading in their cars for Suburbans, or that hybrid owners are dumping their cars en masse.

    The original source of this story was Edmunds, and it includes crossovers in its SUV statistics. According to Edmunds, compact crossovers are the segment that is rising with a bullet: http://static.ed.edmunds-media.com/unversioned/img/industry-center/analysis/key.insights.compact.suv.pdf

    The UMTRI calculation of the fuel economy of new car sales (you guys also publish this stuff) show the average fuel economy of new cars sold this year as being slightly over 25 mpg. This is about the same as it was last year, and above what it was in 2013 and prior years.

    Edmunds also reports that hybrid loyalty rates are falling. I would consider whether aspects of the driving characteristics and ownership experience may have more to do with this than the fuel economy per se.

  • avatar

    ” That’s the math that killed the Tahoe Hybrid and it’s the math that would kill it again were GM bold enough to bring it back.”

    However, on the used market at eBay, it looks like the 2008-09 hybrid Tahoes cost about the same as similarly equipped non-hybrid models, about $22K. If there’s no real price differential, other than concerns about battery life and the reliability of the hybrid drive and controls, why shouldn’t you get a hybrid over a conventional Tahoe?

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      Most of the good feeling coming from buying a truck is knowing they’re simply to fix and can take a beating. A complex Tahoe or Silverado is more for your BMW side of the demographic, great while it’s the “in” thing, after that it’s not your problem. I doubt at the end of the day the Hybrids pull in the same cash as the conventional, unless the electronics can be unhooked to give that 6.0l complete control.

      Those old GMT400s and 800s are still demanded by multiple demographics, how many people want old minivans, probably very few.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        What exactly is more complex about a K2XX truck than a GMT800, other than cabin electronics? It’s still a dead-simple vehicle in most respects.

        • 0 avatar
          Hummer

          A K2XX vs 800

          -8 speed transmission first of all, anyone with an Internet connection can rebuild the 4L60e in the 800.
          -The newer engine has more moving parts that increase complexity, can’t remember if it has a higher PSI fuel system.
          -The entire computer system is integrated on the newer trucks, no replacing the headunit to something better. HVAC integration is a nightmare compared to the plug and play setup in the 800
          -Torsion bar setup in the 800 is dead simply to work with
          – The 800 doesn’t have to deal with a foam bumper protector or painted plastic that adds much labor while also looking horrible, this increases complexity of repairs, and therefore costs
          -Doesn’t match the sheet metal on trucks, driving up costs and complexity among other problems
          -The rear seats folding into the floor was a terrible idea, making a true loading surface a pain in the arse since one has to remove more parts to remove the rear seats.

          Good enough?

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      I for one, would never assume a GM product is likely to be reliable.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      The math that killed the Tahoe hybrid was that virtually nobody bought one because it listed for roughly $10k more than the non-hybrid version. High development costs + higher production costs – low sales = no profits.

      If I had paid the price premium for a new Tahoe hybrid and the resale was no higher 6 years out I would not be happy.

  • avatar
    Tinn-Can

    My girlfriend and I were actually in the Toyota dealership Wednesday looking at a Prius… Even at $2.50 a gallon it would save her like $2500 over 10 years vs the Fit, and they handed us a price sheet with it slashed down to invoice with pretty much no prompt since they had like 20 of them on the lot and they weren’t moving… I’m really not sure what to do. I don’t really like the Prius, but it makes the most sense…

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      Get it Tinn-Can. It is about the most reliable, low-maintenance vehicle you can buy. I don’t care for them, but if you like them, you can’t go wrong.

  • avatar
    deanst

    It boggles my mind that people will pay an extra $1000 for the particular shade of gray they want on a bmw or $2000 for a convenience package which consists of a sunroof and a chrome strip, but some how think paying $3000 extra for a hybrid is crazy. At that price you will get your money back – in gas or resale value – and you don’t have to be an Eco-weenie to be somewhat happy about polluting less.

    My biggest problem with hybrids is that they are largely dork mobiles and/ or unpleasant to drive. Fix that and I’ll by one. ( and add a manual transmission option too.)

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      Adding a manual transmission to a Toyota hybrid is impossible. The two electric motor/generators and battery all routed through the six gears in three sets(fist sized !) differential constitute the transmission. I suppose they could engineer paddle shifter software determined “gear ratios” but that would be pointless in a market where 90+% of drivers opt for automatics anyway. It would also severely ding fuel efficiency when in use, and would still require automatic overrides to avoid spinning one of the electric motors past its RPM limits.

      • 0 avatar
        madman2k

        The original Honda Insight had a manual tranny but it was a different configuration for the hybrid setup. Great MPG when you hypermile it, but I can vouch for how easy it is to return more than 50MPG without any kind of special driving in a Prius. It’s a good system.

        I have a 2010 Prius, and don’t really see the need for a faster car… this car can do at least 30mph more than the fastest speed limit in the country anyway.

        If anything, I would replace it with a higher clearance and 4 wheel drive vehicle because I like doing landscape photography and there have been places I couldn’t drive in my car that might have provided good scenery for pictures.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      “My biggest problem with hybrids is that they are largely dork mobiles and/ or unpleasant to drive. Fix that and I’ll by one.”

      The Fusion and Accord hybrids have fixed the dork-mobile/unpleasant issue, but they’re still not really very enthusiastic. I’d love it if someone would develop a good hybrid for enthusiasts. I think it could change the perception of hybrids.

      Toyota and Honda both have the necessary pieces. Toyota could put the Camry Hybrid powertrain into a Lexus CT and have a legitimately quick, good-handling hot hatch. Honda could stick a bigger electric motor in the Accord Hybrid and make the engine a J-series V6, and it would have a very fast and buttery-smooth sedan. (I know they tried a V6 Accord Hybrid in 2005, but that hybrid system was really primitive and didn’t accomplish much. The current system is many times better.)

      • 0 avatar
        James2

        “I’d love it if someone would develop a good hybrid for enthusiasts. I think it could change the perception of hybrids.”

        McLaren, Ferrari and Porsche would like to show you something.

        Just sayin’ :)

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        ^ This. Even if the Accord Hybrid had a full-bore Atkinson-cycle K24 in there (as if Honda kills the V6 thanks to CAFE, which I’m afraid will happen in 2018 when the 10th-Gen Accord bows), if they can size the battery such that it doesn’t eat trunk and can allow for a normal fold-down seat, allow for normal fog lights (which are not fitted to the current Accord Hybrid because those areas are intakes for ventilation for the hybrid components), I’m sure the result would be an Accord that will put down numbers nearly the equal of the V6’s, while returning low-to-mid 40s MPG on the freeway with A/C blasting whilst transporting a couple passengers along with Adaptive Cruise set at Vmax. (My Touring V6 does mid-30s, same conditions, and hit 41 indicated on the trip computer on a cloudy day without A/C needed, “ECO”-mode engaged, and ACC pacing 70mph traffic.)

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    A cross-country trip in a Prius does not really play to its strengths; the place the Prius gets its best mileage is inner-city driving where the electric motors take 90% of the load of accelerating the car away from traffic lights and stop signs. Highway mileage actually goes down because the motors simply lose all their advantage of low-end torque.

    The numbers do tell the tale as you so clearly demonstrate, though by using such extreme examples of MPG capability it exaggerates that effect. Somebody buying a Silverado is usually unlikely to consider something like the Prius and someone driving a Prius is unlikely to buy a Silverado. On the other hand, comparing like to like with approximately similar cars, while minimizing the effect in some ways, will definitively exemplify it in others. My own commuting experiences about 15 years ago would be a prime example of where electric drive clearly has the advantage. I’ll post that story here if you wish, but the the gist of the matter is that even with a car EPA rated at 28mpg highway, The Tesla Model S would have saved me enough in fuel expenses to completely replace the 6-cylinder Camaro I was driving in four years at Y2K fuel prices.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Actually the big reason that the Toyota/Ford hybrids get the hwy MPG that they do is because the traction motor/generator must generate electricity that is used to power the range motor/generator to provide to allow the ICE to contribute to powering the vehicle. An electric motor is not very efficient at low rpm, it is in it’s mid range where the ratio of mechanical power output to electrical power input is at its highest.

      Look at the new Accord hybrid drive set up it shines on hwy MPG because the motors are just along for the drive and the ICE is connected directly to the wheels with only the final drive gearing creating friction. The Ford/Toyotas on the other hand have that pesky planetary gear set which is relatively high in friction.

      • 0 avatar
        ttacgreg

        The new Accord hybrid system is amazing. I especially love that Consumer’s report bitched about it. They either don’t care or don’t understand how the system works.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          What did CR bitch about? I’m not a Honda fanboi be any stretch of the imagination but the system in the Accord is elegant and in my opinion is the best hybrid, at least in concept, on the market currently. For the record a Fusion Hybrid has been in my driveway for a a few years now but I have to acknowledge a great design. Now I haven’t driven the Accord so I guess there could be overall problems with the car.

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            CR has hated on the dual-screen radio in the higher-end 9th-Gen Accords from the outset, and may have given the dreaded black dot to the V6s because of it. It’s an RTFM thing!

            The unit in my Accord has had a couple hiccups, but not enough that I’ve dinged it on a CR survey. (Just finished my 2015 one yesterday.)

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      “A cross-country trip in a Prius does not really play to its strengths; the place the Prius gets its best mileage is inner-city driving where the electric motors take 90% of the load of accelerating the car away from traffic lights and stop signs. Highway mileage actually goes down because the motors simply lose all their advantage of low-end torque.”

      That is a myth and simply isn’t true. When you pull away from a stoplight in a Prius the electric motor gets you from stopped to about 3-4 mph then the gas motor comes on and the instantaneous mpg drops like a rock, like below 20. City driving is NOT the most efficient use for a Prius because accelerating out of those stops in stop and go traffic kill your mpg.

      I find the most efficient driving in my Prius is rural driving that’s steady with minimal stops and speed changes. And the biggest influence on my mpg for any one trip is the net elevation change. As little as 150 feet net change over 30 miles makes a 5-7 mpg difference.

      This is 5 months driving one as a DD and carefully tracking my mpg.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @JB: Individual circumstances may vary as driving style plays a part in the ‘game’. However, the reported in-town average mileage of a Prius is between 45-50mpg while the highway mileage falls to about 35mpg or less–again depending on speed. My own experience is that unless I’m romping on it, the in-town average easily exceeds 40mpg but because of its size and weight, highway mileage at 70mph comes down a lot closer to 30 than to 40. My Fiat 500 surpasses the Prius’ highway mileage on average, though admittedly the Prius has a lot more carrying capacity and is a little softer riding due to those heavy batteries.

        • 0 avatar
          Japanese Buick

          I should have been clear that rural driving in my case is generally 2-lanes or 55 mph highways. When I do drive 75 on the freeway I get low 40s which is below my average by a few mpg. I agree that driving style and how you play the Prius video game is a big influence on results.

          My main points aren’t the raw numbers but that for me, using a consistent driving style, net elevation change has an outsized influence on mpgs, as much as type of road. Which makes sense, you’re talking about the energy needed to lift the weight of a Prius x feet net, or the energy gained dropping it that much. When I go into town at about 150 higher elevation than my house I usually see about 48-49 mpg. Coming home on the same route it’s about 51-52. I think elevation change is anunderrated factor in trip mpg.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Elevation change does make a significant difference in hybrid MPG. My wife has a Fusion Hybrid and because we live in the foothills pretty much everywhere we go it is down hill on the way out and up hill on the way home. depending on where we are going I’ve seen more than 10mpg difference between the going to and coming home part of the round trip if we call all they way to the bottom of the valley.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            I will agree, JB, across the board. For whatever reason (usually the simple fact that you have to drive a bit more slowly) 2-lane highway driving will always realize better fuel mileage than the expressway–unless you’re driving like an idiot (which some do) and trying to drive it like a racecourse.

  • avatar
    TW5

    I’ve never understood the argument that hybrids and electric vehicles should pay for themselves. If you apply the same test of scrutiny to other vehicles, trim options and equipment, almost nothing passes the test. How much money do you save with leather seats, sport wheels/tires, technology packages, premium engines, etc? We should all be buying the base model with the optional CVT (about the only option that pays for itself), according to the cost argument.

    The cost-savings is a unique aspect of hybrid equipment. The benefit is a vehicle with greater efficiency and lower emissions than even the most efficient ICE-only vehicles. In the future, hybrids will probably have better driving dynamics as well, as battery and supercapacitor technology yields linear torque and smoother powertrains.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      This! If I buy a hybrid, I don’t expect it will pay for itself in saved fuel. I buy it because it’s well-suited for city driving, which I do a lot. The ability to shut down the engine seamlessly, the linear electric torque, and the regenerative braking are all qualitative advantages as far as I’m concerned.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        The hybrids I’ve driven have been anything but “seamless”; my FIL’s ~2010 Camry hybrid sent a shudder through the whole car on restart. Felt terrible.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          Your seamless may vary.

          I’m comparing rental Priuses, where you do feel the engine start but it’s really a non-event, to starter-motor-based systems like the one in the current BMW 3-series. Those are truly terrible.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            I was in stop and go traffic next to/near one of the BMWs with the stop/start system and it was truly terrible being in the car next to it, can’t imagine how bad it is when you are in the car.

          • 0 avatar
            TW5

            @ Scottdude

            It’s awful. I rode in a 528 the other day with start/stop. Engine shut off is seamless. The silence at a dead stop is quite relaxing. Then the entire car shutters to life as the engine restarts.

            I was embarrassed for BMW. Piss Poor.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            Mercedes-Benz stop-start may be even worse.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          I should add: one thing I really like about hybrids that requires both the stop/start system and the big battery is the ability to idle with the climate control on, but the engine off most of the time.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            As long as the climate control is required to cool the air and not heat it then yes, at least with current offerings that still use a hot coolant heater. Then aboslutely yes I love being able to wait in the car on a hot day while the wife runs in to do her errand and have the engine off way more than the engine is on in the summer. In the winter however I find that the heater can suck all the heat out of the engine quicker than the AC compressor drains the battery. When the engine does fire up I find that it takes longer to get it back up to a temp where it will shut down than it does to get the battery to a state of charge where it will shut down.

        • 0 avatar
          brandloyalty

          The engine stop/start on my ’09 Escape Hybrid is so subtle passengers don’t notice it unless I point it out to them. On the other hand, I’ve been beside a new Mercedes sedan and suv in traffic lately, and their engine restart was very obvious. Sounded very crude.

          In addition, car reviewers often comment that the brake pedal feel in hybrids is uneven. Other than the first stop of a drive, which features a small “lump” at about 3mph, you’d never know there was anything different about the Escape Hybrid.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Vehicle choice is more about fuel price volatility rather than absolute price, and the general market preference for larger and more powerful vehicles. If there is a slow gradual increase in fuel prices from current levels to 6-8 dollars per gallon over the next 5-8 years, no one that wants a larger/powerful vehicle is going to switch to a Prius. If the world blows up and prices spike up suddenly, then many will trade the Tahoe for a Prius equivalent, but many will switch back when the world calms down as appears to be the case now. I also wouldn’t bet on large increases in fuel prices over the next few years unless the US government starts raising fuel taxes to European levels. There are so many new sources of oil (and natural gas) that can come online pretty quickly when needed, not to mention the potential for more EVs and natural gas powered vehicles if the economics of them get more attractive, which will further reduce demand and prices for gasoline and diesel. From the automaker perspective, CAFE also means that GM can’t sell too many Tahoes, so they have taken them upmarket to get higher profits per unit, while Prius type vehicles are generally low/no profit vehicles that are effectively subsidized by the automakers so that they can sell more Tahoe type vehicles that are profitable. Therefore a Republican administration in 2016 that winds back CAFE could mean that Tahoe prices come down and Prius prices go up and further muddy the fuel savings math presented here.

  • avatar
    George B

    Jack, I attempted the spreadsheet calculations for the Accord hybrid vs. non-hybrid sedan under various what-if scenarios and I kept coming back to the hybrid version not saving me money. The problem was if I kept the car long enough to overcome the higher initial price, the battery pack would have to survive many thousands of charge/discharge cycles and batteries available today lose a lot of capacity with this many cycles. Even the real-world fuel economy numbers from fuelly don’t help me predict actual hybrid fuel economy toward the end of the battery life.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      With the Honda hybrids battery life is certainly a big concern. They have had some real stinkers like the first Civic Hybrids that typically need a battery pack replacement before 100K. That and the fact that they do not get a substantial increase in mpg due to that power train design is why their resale value is lower than a standard Civic. Meanwhile at least until the price of gas dropped as much as it had a Camry, Fusion, or Escape hybrids are worth more than the regular versions at resale time.

      The reality is that the real world fuel economy does not drop dramatically near the end of the battery life.

      Of course the big factor is what is the actual premium paid to move up to the hybrid. On many of the available cars it is hard to pinpoint the exact cost due to the hybrid being a stand alone trim level that doesn’t correspond exactly to the ICE powered version and Typically falls somewhere in the upper trim levels. The 2013+ Fusion is likely to be the best apples to apples comparison since you can now get a Hybrid S, and SE who have very similar equipment levels.

      • 0 avatar
        brandloyalty

        I agree that fuel economy in a hybrid such as the Prius or Escape Hybrid does not drop dramatically. The battery system is only one part of what makes these cars efficient. Other systems are not affected by battery life. Such as: engine stop/start, LRR tires, Atkinson cycle engine, relatively small engine and CVT. So even if the battery had zero capacity, mileage would suffer only something like 30%. In real life, degradation of the battery pack is either so slow or non-existent, so owners rarely claim any loss of mileage as the hybrids age.

        Where I disagree with you is on resale price. Due to prevailing myths about complex systems requiring costly repairs, and need to replace the hybrid battery, used hybrids sell for no more than equivalent non-hybrids.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      This……
      http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2011/02/the-200-000-mile-question-how-does-the-toyota-prius-hold-up/index.htm

      I am mildly suspicious of of Honda after their Civic hybrid battery issue that screwed over my nephew. He was suffering battery issues, they issued a tech bulletin or some such that altered the software. It did little good, and that took him over the warranty threshold and left him holding the bag for a new battery at less than 100K

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      I don’t know about Honda hybrids, but degradation and replacement of battery packs in Prius’ and Escape Hybrids is virtually unknown.

  • avatar
    suspekt

    Former Prius and Hummer owner here.

    The Prius saved me tons of money. Here’s the real math:

    – Paid $10,500 CDN for one with 50,000 miles
    – Sold for $10,000 CDN at 100,000 miles
    – Averaged about $0.05 per KM in fuel cost

    Now this is what I call truly exceptional true cost of ownership.

    There were no unplanned maintenance events.

    Just a great commuter car.

  • avatar
    HiFlite999

    My cheapest ground transportation was with my post-divorce 3 vehicle fleet of $1500 beaters. Reliability was 100% since at least one was drivable at any given time for parts runs to fix the other two. Savings on sales tax, excise tax and full-coverage insurance vs buying new went a long way to offsetting any saving from buying a new, higher-mpg car.

    However, many of the above comments wrt hybrids I think are exactly why Europe seems to be skipping the “classic” hybrids and going directly to plugins, whether pure electric or gas/electric. That is, there is too little difference between the base models and hybridized versions to justify the cost.

    I’m very happy with my 2013 Volt, and not just because of the 81 mpgs returned so far (50% engine-assisted, 50% pure electric). The driving experience alone is worth it, regardless of the $/gallon of the moment. Plus, I’m set up to power my house from my Volt during the coming Zombi Apocalypse!

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    I think all of the companies that have a competent hybrid drivetrain for midsized cars ought to thing about marketing a longer sedan to recapture trun-space lost to the hybrid drive train. Most of the midsized sedans are about 190 inches long. The early 00’s Dodge intrepid was over 200 inches long, and if you split the difference you would end up with a car of reasonable length with good trunk room. The Toyota Avalon sort of does this with a length of 195 inches, but the lowest priced Avalon Hybrid is over $37,000.

  • avatar
    blueflame6

    Ignoring the price of fuel, how much would you pay to get to stop at a gas station only half as often for as long as you own the car? It’s probably not zero.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      Dual tanks make that an easy task, and if you have a pickup one of the half tool boxes, half fuel tank combos could give you about 130+/- gallons.

      Fuel prices aside, that is.

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      I do like paying less than $20 to fill the tank every 8-9 days or so instead of $50 every week. Regular unleaded vs my other car’s premium helps too.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      I have to stop half as often to fill up the Escape Hybrid as with an equivalent non-hybrid. On long trips this is not an advantage because bladder capacity does not change when one buys a hybrid.

    • 0 avatar
      skeeter44

      Good point – time wasted getting fuel is not free

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      With my EV, not only did I save time, but I was able to avoid freezing my butt off this winter pumping gas into a car. I drive about 1500 miles a month and charge at home and work. The car has been a fantastic little commuting machine. Avoided spending time and effort getting an oil change too.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      It doesn’t work that way. I have to clean the bugs off the windshield, and I can’t drive 600miles without having to pee, either. But ignoring that, you might save big money on the Twinkie Tax!

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Regarding fuel prices, long term trends are probably higher -especially as a few billion of the world’s poor enter near middle class prosperity (this is a good thing, even if African elephants suffer).

    That said, given much of the world has yet to adopt US Frack Tech, fuel price prediction is an insane undertaking.

    Go back to early ’09 with gas ~ $2.50/gallon. If you had predicted that in 2015 we’d have:

    a) a 2nd term President Obama (with his given lack of passion for drilling)
    b) a civil war raging in Syria – with psycho Iranian and Saudi factions killing/gassing/torturing each other.
    c) the collapse of Libya and ensuing civil chaos.
    d) a resurgent Putin for the Euros, and Chavez/Maduro for the Americas.
    e) Saudi bombing in Yemen to deter Iranian influence.
    AND
    F) approx $2.60 gas on the I90 from Cleveland to Boston!!!

    If you had predicted the above, you’d be considered a bit eccentric.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    There’s one problem with the whole “years to pay for itself” argument, in that it puts it in terms that seem to suggest you’ve paid cash up front (I know, all TTAC readers do), and that it’s a cost to be recouped. Realistically, huge numbers of people are financing or leasing, where the car might be paying for itself, even just incrementally, over the payment term.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Why such a low percentage of hybrid owners replace their hybrids with another hybrid has always puzzled me. The answer was just under my nose.

    A couple of years ago I bought a used, fully loaded ’09 Ford Escape Hybrid with about 60k miles on it, from a Ford dealership. I paid $16,500 Cdn. Now, the cost to the original owner, including tax and dealer fees for this vehicle would have been over $46,000 Cdn. If I bought it for $16,500 it would make sense that the original owner got $12-13,000 for it as a tradein. So they lost about $33,000 in 3 1/2 years.

    Having considered other used Escape Hybrids, and having shopped for a used Prius, I know what I paid for the Escape was not unusual.

    Anyone navigating replacing a hybrid will run face-first into the fact used hybrids have poor resale value. While this is fine for used-car buyers who understand most of the folk wisdom about hybrids (such as periodic battery replacement costing %8000) is untrue, it means those who prefer to buy new, having been stung once by buying a hybrid, are unlikely to get stung a second time.

    • 0 avatar
      skeeter44

      Like any car if the ownership experience of a hybrid – compromises + cost of ownership is disappointing you will not buy again – Old Cadillac owners can attest to this.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      It’s a leap to presume that 45% is a low figure.

      Average brand loyalty is about 51%. Note that figure is loyalty to the entire brand.

      (Also, that figure declines as cars get older. For a variety of reasons, long-term owners are more likely to defect.)

      This 45% figure is limited to an even smaller group of vehicles, and it isn’t far off from the norm.

      It is probably more accurate to say that 45% loyalty to a specific vehicle niche is actually pretty good, it just isn’t as high as it was. While TMC has reason to be concerned about that, Prius loyalty is declining from a very high level to something more normal.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      For my commuting cars, a major reason that I went full EV rather that buying a second hybrid was because I really enjoyed the 1st hybrids electric mode and wanted the next car to be 100% electric. Now that I have more confidence in the EV, both cars might be replaced by something like a couple of Model 3s.

      The only down side with my particular hybrid, a Prius, is the driving dynamics. The Leaf is an SL with 215/50 tires and feels like an Elise next to the Prius. The overall experience with the hybrid was really good, but I’m ready to move on to the next level.

      For me, less time maintaining the commuter cars means more time available for maintaining half century plus fun cars.

    • 0 avatar
      PandaBear

      1)Dedicated hybrid models are smaller in interior space than large non hybrid vehicles. People tends to upgrade in size because over time they need the space (having a family, for example).

      2)Dedicated hybrid drivers tend to buy them because they don’t just drive 15k miles a year. They are more likely to be long distance commuters (i.e. more than 50 miles a day), so they can recoup the cost difference faster.

      3)Prius has very good resell value, and they seem to be the most reliable Toyota out there. I’m not sure if your assumption is correct that their resell value tank like a rock (EV on the other hand is, for a very good reason due to battery wear).

  • avatar
    skeeter44

    My wife came out of a LS430 that got about 17 mpg mixed and 24 mgg on the highway; she wanted a hybrid. I would only consider a hybrid version of a mainstream vehicle so the Accord Hybrid is a natural choice – Now mileage is 2-3X better and the amenities are as good or better than the 2003 LS car – seems a rational choice even if it is not entirely cost effective for many years by the ROI model. Personally my car – a 335is gets a bad 17 mpg when tooling around hot on the turbos. I can squeeze 27+ mpg out on the highway driving carefully but what’s the point in doing that. I have a hard time believing that the heavier BMWs with the 3 turbo get anything approaching “good” mileage.

  • avatar
    trackratmk1

    “When will electric cars outsell gasoline-powered cars in the American marketplace?” The answer?

    The answer is whenever EVs provide 100% of the convenience (or more) of a conventional car. No less. They will remain a niche till then.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      What? 90% not good enough for you? When the price comes down a bit more, I think you’ll find a lot more people buying into BEVs That and the fact that we don’t have any BEV pickup trucks is pretty much all that’s slowing them down right now.

    • 0 avatar
      HydrogenOnion

      Speaking of convenience, I can’t think of anything more convenient than being able to recharge at home and not having to visit a gas station.

      All that’s needed is some additional development on the range front and more expansion of fast chargers along major roads/highways (personally I think gas stations should get in on this game) and we’ll be there.

      Given that Li-Ion batteries have been steadily getting better and cheaper for the past 20 years, I predict we will be at that point in around 10 years.

  • avatar
    EMedPA

    Scrolling through all of these comments, only KixStart comes close to The Truth About Priuses. They’re close to indestructible.

    My suspicion is that people buy them to make a statement or for the fuel economy, but they keep them because they seem to run forever. My mother owns a 10 year old 2nd generation Prius with 130,000 miles on it. Still runs nearly like new, and that’s with indifferent maintenance at best. My cousin’s car has 200,000 miles on it and, according to him, still has the original service brakes. (An additional benefit to regenerative braking, it seems, funky pedal feel aside.)

    It’s too bad that any element of driving fun has been surgically excised from these cars, and I wish that 1) they could tow a small utility trailer, and 2) they didn’t suck in the snow. But for someone looking for a dependable, economical car to drive and not think much about, it’s hard to go wrong with one of these.

    • 0 avatar
      madman2k

      I think having an optional air suspension to raise the car up 2 or 3 inches on demand, along with having a traction control shut off and possibly even driving the rear wheels with the electric motor, would go a hell of a long way towards making it good in the snow/mud.

      I’ve gotten it stuck once, bottoming out in mud really messes up the plastic covers on the bottom so I took those off. Getting unstuck is tough when you really only have one drive wheel and traction control always kicks in. My brother-in-law had to pull me out with his old GMC truck with a 350, manual transfer case and locking hubs. That thing laughs at a little bit of mud, but I couldn’t afford to put 25k miles a year on something like that.

      Had a near miss in the snow when I was in Colorado too, but snow is soft and if you get momentum it’ll push through.

      I reckon it’s as good on ice as anything else without studded tires, though. More power is just dangerous there, and the acceleration is very smooth and controlled. Braking smoothly takes a steady foot.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    TTAC needs a way to automatically hide any front-page stories whose comments include the word “Obama”. I’m here to talk about cars, not shout at the other residents of my respective partisan echo chamber. For the love of God, make it stop.

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