Sales of hybrid and electric cars jumped nearly 40% in the first
quarter of the year. The primary reason: soaring gas prices. More
than one-third of consumers now say fuel economy is the most
important factor in their next vehicle purchase, according to a
recent study by Maritz Research, a market-research firm.
CALCULATOR: How Much Will a Green Car Save You?
Setting aside their environmental cred, are hybrids, diesels and
electric vehicles actually wallet-friendly? Prices on hybrids run
about $3,300 higher on average than stickers on their gas-engine
siblings. The diesel difference is about $2,800 more. And the two
EVs on the market -- the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf -- are each
more than $18,000 pricier than their closest gas-engine match. But
the long-term ownership costs are the real measure of whether
buying green is worth it.
Running the numbers.
Using five-year ownership costs from Vincentric, an automotive data
firm, we compared 2011 hybrid, diesel and electric vehicles with
their closest gasoline-engine counterparts. In most cases, that's
the same model with a different powertrain; when a hybrid (like the
Prius) had no counterpart, we chose the closest match from the
The numbers assume you drive 15,000 miles a year and that
regular gasoline costs $3.64 a gallon, premium is $3.91, and diesel
is $3.97 -- the average prices nationwide in early summer -- with a
3.5% annual increase for each fuel. In addition to fuel costs,
depreciation, maintenance and repairs, the math also includes
finance costs for a five-year loan after a 15% down payment,
insurance and taxes. The Volt and Leaf are both eligible for the
$7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles, and that, too, is factored
Pump prices have a lot to do with making green cars a good value.
Two years ago, when gas prices were hovering close to $2 a gallon,
few hybrids and diesels earned back their premium price with
savings at the pump. But with gas prices now closer to $4, more
buyers will save green by buying green.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that although the Volt and Leaf
have stratospheric sticker prices-nearly double those of the
gas-engine Chevrolet Cruze LTZ and Nissan Versa S hatchback-both
have super-low five-year ownership costs. The Volt's costs come
within $500 of the Cruze's and the Leaf is only $800 more than the
Versa over five years. (
Run your own comparisons of these models and many
Diesels are likely to recoup their extra cost and save owners
money over the long haul. Of the 12 diesel models available this
year, nine have long-term costs below those of their gas-engine
brethren. But note that these tend to be the pricier vehicles --
including all the Mercedes�Benz and BMW models. Audi's
A3 2.0 TDI scores high as well, saving nearly $3,500 over the 2.0T.
The Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI claims a saving of nearly $800
over its gas-engine sibling.
Hybrids are a mixed bag, with some models producing big savings
and others so highly priced that they don't make sense. The
Mercedes�Benz S400 hybrid saves you $7,000 over five
years. Other values: the Mercedes ML450H (a $2,900 saving), Lincoln
MKZ hybrid ($4,600), Honda Insight ($3,000), and Lexus CT 200h
($5,500) and HS 250h ($1,200). Newly minted for 2011, the Porsche
Cayenne S Hybrid costs nearly $800 less than the gas Cayenne over
five years, and Hyundai's Sonata hybrid saves about $400.
Which green cars don't come out ahead? The diesel models of the
Jetta sedan and Golf hatchback are projected to cost more than
their counterparts. Likewise with the Audi Q7 TDI, Lexus RX 450h
and Toyota Highlander Hybrid. The poster child for green, the
Toyota Prius, costs $1,500 more than the Corolla over five years
but beats the Camry LE by $3,200.
Follow Jessica on Twitter