Hybrids: Do the mileage savings justify the cost?

Published 11:33 pm Friday, August 15, 2008

The push to create greener, more fuel-efficient vehicles is nothing new for many manufacturers, but rising fuel costs have provided an added incentive to produce a bigger selection of battery-aided transports.

Now the question remains — is the extra cost of hybrid transports justified by its supposed fuel efficiency? We will take a look at a small slice of the 2009 lineup of hybrids vehicles to see just how well they stack up to their non-hybrid cousins. For the sake of simplicity, this column will compare the Ford Escape, Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu and GMC Yukon hybrids to their non-hybrid counterparts. Estimated ratings of carbon emission and fuel economy are taken from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Web site www.fueleconomy.gov and are based on 45 percent highway driving, 55 percent city driving, 15,000 annual miles and the price of fuel used by the vehicle.

The carbon footprint measures greenhouse gas emissions expressed in carbon dioxide equivalents. The estimates presented here are “full fuel-cycle estimates” and include the three major greenhouse gases emitted by motor vehicles: carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane.

Ford Escape — The front wheel drive 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid sports utility vehicle, equipped with a 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine, checks in with an impressive 34 miles per gallon city and 31 mpg highway for a combined estimated fuel economy of 32 mpg and emits an estimated 5.2 tons of carbon dioxide annually. The Ford Escape is available for a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $19,140 and is capable of 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. Its hybrid cousin has an MSRP of $26,640 with an estimated fuel savings of 7-9 mpg.

Toyota Camry — The midsize 2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid, equipped with a 2.4 liter four-cylinder engine, delivers an estimated 33 mpg in the city, a slightly better 34 mpg on the highway for a combined 34 mpg rating and 5.4 tons of carbon dioxide emission annually. According to Toyota’s website the Camry Hybrid comes with an opening MSRP of $25,650. The standard Camry starts at $18,920, delivers 21 mpg in the city limits and 31 mpg on the highway, providing a substantial jump in fuel economy for the average commuter.

Chevrolet Malibu – The midsize 2009 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid, also equipped with a 2.4 liter four-cylinder engine and comparable to the Camry, supplies 26 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway for a combined economy of 29 mpg. Carbon emissions for the Malibu are also quite a bit higher at an estimated 6.3 tons of carbon dioxide annually. Although prices have not been announced for the 2009 models, Chevrolet’s suggested retail price for the 2008 model started at $24,545 for a baseline hybrid Malibu. The Malibu LS began at $20,550 for the 2008 lineup and delivered 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway for an estimated difference of 4 mpg.

GMC Yukon – The 2WD GMC Yukon 1500 Hybrid, powered by a six liter V-8 engine, paints an excellent picture of what hybrid technology can do for the consumers who want a little extra relief at the pump, but do not want to say goodbye to full-size SUVs. The Yukon Hybrid delivers a combined fuel economy of 21 mpg, 21 city and 22 highway, with an emissions rating of 8.7 tons of carbon dioxide annually. According to the General Motors website the 2008 standard Yukon, equipped with a 5.3 liter Flex Fuel V-8, delivers 11 mpg city and 15 mpg highway with an MSRP starting at $36,245. Its hybrid counterpart comes with a suggested price tag starting at $50,945.

These four vehicles provide a small glimpse of the ever-expanding selection of hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles available on the market. Some makes provide a noticeable edge in fuel economy and a clear savings in estimate annual fuel costs to justify the added price cost. Other vehicles might require some added research to find the benefits to offset the added cost.

All information, including cost and estimate fuel economy, is taken from each manufacturer’s website. Contact a local dealership for more information and up-to-date pricing.