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.