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USA; Mark Phelan: Energy Dept. website helps you find break-even point of hybrid vehicles

What’s the break-even point when you buy a hybrid? How long do you have to own a hybrid, and how far must you drive one, before the money you save on fuel offsets the additional cost?

A new website from the U.S. Department of Energy has some surprising answers to those questions.

“Hybrids have moved from the early-adopter stage to the mainstream,” said Bo Saulsbury, a researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and one of the people who created the comparison website. “We thought it was important to give people a tool to figure out if they’re worth the cost. A hybrid won’t always pay for itself, but some will.”

The website, fueleconomy.gov , shows how much a hybrid adds to the sticker price versus a comparably equipped model, how much money it will save every year, and how long it takes to repay the initial cost.

The higher gasoline costs go, the quicker the payback for all hybrids.

The Buick LaCrosse and Lincoln MKZ hybrids pay for themselves in the first year. They have the same MSRP and better fuel efficiency than V6 versions of the same cars.

The Cadillac Escalade hybrid, which was initially belittled for its 21 m.p.g. combined city/highway fuel economy rating, pays for itself in a mere 2.1 years.

The much-less-expensive Kia Optima hybrid won’t break even for 4.9 years, according to the website. That’s because the Escalade’s 6-m.p.g. fuel economy improvement from the base model’s 15 m.p.g. is a bigger deal percentage-wise than the Optima’s jump from 28 m.p.g. to 37 m.p.g.

The Kia’s $2,500 cost increase is also a much greater proportion of its sticker price than the Escalade’s $2,175 rise.

“Sometimes, the most bang for the buck is in big vehicles,” Saulsbury said.

The website calculator compares hybrids with their conventionally powered counterparts.
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