Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Prius, schmius

There's an interesting discussion going on in the comments section at Eschaton. Basically, what is the minimum price to which gas would have to rise to force major changes in your lifestyle?

A number of people have written about how great Prius's are. A little bit about the other hybrid cars, but mostly about the Prius. I've always thought the gas/electric combo is a great idea. It's a really nifty technology at least. Then I did the math...

The milage for a Prius is 60 highway/51 city. Let's average that and say 55. For the Saturn Ion with an automatic transmission it's 32/24 for an average of 28. The Honda Civic is a bit better at 38/32 for an average of 35. Let's say you drive 10,000 miles a year, which I think is reasonable unless you have an 80 mile commute. (How anyone can live in California is beyond me.) Say half that is highway, and half that is city driving. The Prius will use 182 gallons of gas per year. The Ion will use 357 per year (327 for a manual trans.) and the Civic comes in at 285 gallons. With gas around $2.30 a gallon, that means the Ion will cost $403 more per year to run, and the Civic $239. Hardly chump change. So the Prius looks like a good deal.

Uh oh, but look at the base prices for these cars. (This is a simplistic analysis, so I'm not bothering with any options.) The Saturn starts at $12,000, the Civic at $13,300 but the Prius costs a whopping $21,000! Even if gas prices rose to $5 per gallon, it would take 10 years to make up the difference in purchase price for a Saturn, and 14 years for the Civic.

Compared to an SUV, sure, the Prius is probably a great price and you'd save a lot each year on gas. But it's not fair to compare the Prius and the Ford Monstrosity. If you compare it to similar sedans, the Prius is not an economical choice. Believe me, I wish it were, but the math just doesn't work out. This is just one case where economy doesn't pay.


Anonymous said...

Unless you take the green argument where the prius is the better car NOT because it saves you money but because it is better for the environment.


Narc said...

OK, true. But this came from the context of a discussion on, "What is the minimum price of gas that would create a significant change in your lifestyle." So this was an economics/lifestyle argument, not an environmental one.

Even on the environmental merits, I have some concerns about the Prius and the other hybrids. They store large amounts of electricity, which I think requires lead-acid batteries. That can generate a significant source of lead, unless it's reclaimed somehow. I think there are programs to recycle lead in batteries like this, but there's always some loss in any process.

Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of efficiency, and I think the MPG requirements on cars should be raised. I think that monstrous SUVs should be regulated like the trucks they are. And I like the Prius, from what I've read. It's just mondo expensive compared to a similar car.