Website Calculates Hybrid Payback Time

A government fuel-economy website now calculates payback for hybrids vs. lower-price but similarly equipped gasoline models.

It’s the “similarly equipped” part that’s often missing, the feds say.

The new feature is the work of the National Transportation Research Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It maintains and operates the website that publishes the Environmental Protection Agency’s official mileage ratings for cars and trucks.

The transportation unit says that shoppers can be misled by some articles: “These stories argue that the higher upfront sticker price makes the hybrid’s payback period too long. However, some of the stories compare hybrids, which are usually equipped with more standard features, with base model gasoline vehicles that may not be as well-equipped. These comparisons ignore the value of the optional equipment that comes standard on many hybrid models.”

The government site, in contrast, “looks at manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) and fuel cost for hybrids and non-hybrids with comparable styles and trim levels, and the results show that there are some hybrids that really do save money.”

No-brainer examples cited by the transportation unit at the new hybrid payback website include Buick LaCrosse and Lincoln MKZ models equipped and priced the same whether hybrid or gasoline. The hybrids use less fuel, so they instantly save the buyer money.

Of immediate interest is the comparison of the Honda Insight hybrid vs. the Honda Fit gasoline car, which is the most-similar model that Honda sells in the U.S.

The feds show the Insight’s fuel-cost savings would take 5.3 years to repay a buyer who spent the $2,375 extra for the Insight vs. a similarly outfitted Fit.

The government site, however, makes no allowances for different, and changing, incentives on hybrid and non-hybrid models.

When the Lincoln MKZ hybrid/non-hybrid models were launched together, the gas model carried an incentive and the hybrid didn’t, which would skew the calculation of real-world payback time.

At the moment, according to shopping site, the Buick LaCrosse eAssist hybrid has a discount of $1,500 making it that much cheaper to buy than the gasoline version. The two have identical starting prices of $31,045 on their window stickers.

Here is a link to the new website:

1 Comment
  1. Lawrence Hudson 4 months ago

    Comparison between similarly-equipped cars makes sense for some buyers, but not for all. I wanted a new 2016 Toyota RAV4 hybrid and no frills in September, 2016. I was willing to accept the LE base model, but at that time the hybrid was only available on the mid- and upper-trim models, the XLE and the Limited. I couldn’t find an XLE in a hybrid on any dealer’s lot within 100 miles (all the hybrids were the Limited) and had to factory order a 2017 XLE, which raised the cost even more. Now I’m getting good gas mileage and the car has been trouble-free, but a Subaru Forester or a Honda CRV would probably do almost as well. Comparing the price of the Toyota XLE hybrid to the base Subaru or Honda would have made sense in my case, but I didn’t do that. And I discovered that I really hate the infotainment system in the Toyota, especially the navigation. A longer test ride might have uncovered that (as you advise).

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