The Steep Price of Auto Efficiency
Given the state of gas prices, it’s no surprise that sales of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric cars have shot up: They were the fastest-growing U.S. vehicle segment in the first quarter of 2012. Electric-drive vehicle sales jumped 49 percent from a year earlier to more than 117,000 vehicles.
What’s intriguing is that the premium cost of most alternatives to standard internal-combustion-engine-powered vehicles often doesn’t pencil out for many years, according to the New York Times, based on research by the automobile research site TrueCar.com. That scenario doesn’t change even if gas prices rise to $5 per gallon. The Times found that the owners of Toyota Prius and Lincoln MKZ hybrids and Volkswagen Jetta diesel would begin to see overall savings in less than two years of driving. A Ford Escape Hybrid driver would need more than 11 years to recoup the price premium of $7,000 over the standard Escape, computed at gas prices of $3.85 per gallon.
But people choose higher-mpg vehicles for reasons other than simply saving at the pump. “Fuel economy has become a social attribute,” Tom Turrentine, a University of California, Davis, anthropologist and director of the university’s Plug-In Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Research Center, told the Times. “People want to have good fuel economy because if they have poor fuel economy they might look stupid.”
Photo by iStock/wakila
Reed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked at the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas Ever Thus.”