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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Hybrids on the High Road

Air Date: Week of

James Bell is publisher of Intellichoice.com.(Courtesy of Intellichoice.com)

A new study by Intellichoice.com, an L.A. based auto-buyers guide, compares the cost of hybrid cars to conventional cars and reveals that over a five year period, hybrids cost thousands of dollars less than similar-sized gas engine vehicles. Host Bruce Gellerman talks with James Bell, publisher of the study, about his results.


GELLERMAN: Conventional wisdom has it that hybrid cars save on gas but they’re a lot more expensive to buy, and in the long run, more expensive to own. But a new study by an L.A. based auto buyer’s guide calculated the total cost of owning a hybrid over five years, and found well, let’s ask James Bell. He’s publisher of Intellichoice.com and he joins us from the Detroit Auto Show. James, you did the study. So let’s compare the cost of similar midsize cars—say, the hybrid Toyota Prius with a regular gas engine Camry. Show me the money.

BELL: Oh, yes. According to our cost of ownership analysis you’re looking at a 13,000 dollar savings.

James Bell is publisher of Intellichoice.com. (Courtesy of Intellichoice.com)

GELLERMAN: I’d save 13,000 dollars over 5 years by buying a hybrid?

BELL: Well, if you look at how the vehicles going to depreciate, what it’s going to cost you to maintain and of course the fuel savings, it all adds up.

GELLERMAN: But with a hybrid don’t you need to buy those batteries and aren’t they very expensive?

BELL: Ah, I’m so glad you brought that up. That has been a real misconception of hybrids and the battery packs that are within them. I personally bought a 2004 Prius, and myself, I was a little bit concerned about the batteries; there’s enough kind of water cooler talk about it. Well, now since I’m working in the industry I’ve now been privy to some other information and I know that there have been independent studies done bench testing those battery packs. And they’ve lasted in excess of 250,000 miles before anything needs to be done to them.

And the primary reason for that, I believe, is that you’ve got people with cell phones, and digital cameras, and camcorders with rechargeable batteries and we charge them all the way to the top and then let them drain all the way to the bottom and then do that over and over again. Well, that’s brutal. That’s very difficult on the battery life itself. What a hybrid vehicle does is it uses the computers to make sure that the battery is no more than 70 percent full and no less than 30 percent emptied. So you’ve always got it in that sweet spot and battery life has fully exceeded any expectations. Even if you look at the first generation Prius, it just has not been an issue what so ever.

GELLERMAN: If owning a hybrid is in fact less expensive than owning a regular car what will that mean for the future of the hybrid model?

BELL: Well, I think this sort of information is going to be getting out to more and more people and they’ll realize that hybrids should be on their shopping list for reasons other than purely fuel economy or purely environmental reasons. I mean no vehicle is a good investment. Maybe only a Ferrari is going to give you a return. And since this is the second largest purchase you’re going to make you better do it as smart as possible. So, we found that among all the vehicles out there that hybrid is the best alternative. You’re not necessarily going to make money, but you’re going to lose definitely the least.

GELLERMAN: James Bell is publisher of intellichoice.com, an online auto buyers guide. Hey, James, thank you very much.

BELL: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much.




“Hybrid autos save money in long run, study finds” in The Los Angeles Times


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