Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hybrid Cars' Fantasy Mileage Ratings Drive Into the Sunset

By John Gartner for Wired

Hybrid car economics will face a new road test this month with the arrival of fresh models sporting revised mileage ratings from the Environmental Protection Agency.

This year, new test standards have forced manufacturers to lower advertised efficiency claims on most models compared to previous years, and car lots are bracing for a tougher environment for hybrid sales.

It will "make for an interesting summer," said Phil Reed, the fuel economy guide editor at auto website Edmunds.com. The estimations are based on data from Edmunds.com that assumes 15,000 miles driven per year and gasoline at an average price of $2.70.

Hybrids can cost from $1,500 to $4,500 more than their gas-only equivalents. The new mileage estimates mean it will take longer to recoup that extra cost in money saved on gas. Experts say the shift could dampen demand, although some hybrids will look better on paper than others.

According to a formula devised by Edmunds, it would take nearly 10 years to recoup the extra costs after buying a 2007 Mercury Mariner Hybrid, up from 6.6 according to the old mileage ratings. For the 2007 Honda Accord and Honda Civic hybrids it takes 14.5 and 6.5 years, respectively.

The 2007 Toyota Prius remains a good bargain when compared to a similarly equipped 2007 Toyota Camry -- it takes just 1.2 years to break even.

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