Used hybrids - fuel savings vs. purchase price

More and more hybrid models are entering the new car market. This means the number of used petrol/electric vehicles will continue to increase and start to become an attractive alternative to those simply looking for a fuel efficient and affordable means of transport.

Some pretty ugly looking used imports have already helped swell the number of hybrids on our roads with some of those very early versions finding homes with the true believers in this technology.

As time moves on however, more and more motorists are being exposed to a new generation of New Zealand-new used hybrids. Most have served a useful past life and sit alongside many other low mileage and genuine used cars on car yards across the country.

Hardly dynamic or sporty, the fuel efficient petrol/electric vehicles are starting to appeal to more and more motorists simply looking to reduce their fuel bill. Just ask a taxi driver who has moved out of a big 6-cylinder thirsty petrol vehicle and into a Hybrid Toyota Prius if you don’t believe just how much money can be saved by moving into the world of petrol/electric. These vehicles can move from one red light to another in the inner city in total silence and with zero emissions which makes a cabbie a far richer man than he used to be.

Combine that with engine stop-start technology (when running on petrol the engine will automatically stop and restart as required) and the ongoing uncertainty over future fuel prices - it’s not hard to understand why the true believers are being joined by the average punter looking for a good value-for-money motorcar.

Sounds like all good news so far? We do issue a word of caution for those looking at moving into the hybrid world.

While the taxi driver sings the praises of a hybrid, it is because the technology fits perfectly with the job requirements. The big distances covered per year mean an almost guaranteed payback is achieved a lot quicker than with a conventional petrol powered cab.

It’s not that straightforward for many of the average Kiwi motorists. Let’s assume for a minute that the need is for a reliable, good quality, low mileage, late model and economical used car. For the purpose of this exercise we'll use the popular 5-door hatch Toyota Corolla as our straight petrol-powered vehicle.

Recently judged the Car of the Decade at the AA’s Motoring Excellence Awards, the Corolla ticks a lot of boxes for those looking for a no-frills bullet-proof compact sized car. It will carry out all the duties expected of a hybrid Toyota or Honda and will even have an edge in terms of being able to tow a reasonable load which suits the lifestyle of many Kiwi families.

A quick search of 2008 Corolla Hatches advertised for sale showed an average asking price of around $19,800. In comparison, a 2008 Toyota Prius was averaging around $26,600 and the Civic Hybrid $24,000. Once again for the sake of an easy calculation let’s combine the two hybrids for an average price of $25,300.

Claimed fuel consumption figures for the Corolla are 7.6l per 100kms while the Prius has a standout 3.9l/100km and the Civic 4.6l/100km. While the Corolla and the Honda can run happily on the cheaper 91 octane fuel, the Prius requires the higher octane 95 fuel due to its high compression engine. If we use the AA’s December 2010 Petrolwatch prices, fuel costs are calculated at $1.96 for the 91 and $2.03 for the 95 octane.

Using the average distance travelled per year of 14,000kms the total cost of fuel for the Prius per year is approximately $1100, $2100 for the Corolla and $1250 for the Civic Hybrid. Things are starting to stack up pretty well for both hybrids until we have a closer look at the retail pricing.

There is a $5,500 average price gap in favour of the Corolla. So how long does it take to recoup the extra if you decide to take the hybrid pathway?

There are a lot of ifs and buts here but, if all three vehicles were driven the same distance and as economically and identically as possible, it would take over five and a half years to start claiming a victory over the Corolla if you owned a Prius and six years plus if you purchased the Honda.

Sure - we're not reducing tail pipe emissions as much as we could be by sticking with a straight petrol vehicle. If the price of petrol was to rise significantly, the pendulum would swing more in favour of the hybrid. However, if motorists were to look at moving away from large cars where possible, it could be argued the benefits would be as positive in terms of reducing unwanted emissions and stretching our oil reserves a little further.

Hybrids are definitely on the increase and there is no question they will play a role in the future of motoring in NZ. You just need to be careful you don’t pay too much for a perceived financial benefit that may never be realised.


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