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EPA: 9 years to pay back Prius, hybrid premiums

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  December 31, 2008 10:03 AM

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Here's another story in today's Globe that will raise the neck hair on Prius drivers. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, at today's gas prices it would take more than nine years to pay back the average $4,000 premium on a hybrid car, as opposed to only four years when gas prices soared over $4 per gallon.

Reporter Erin Ailworth found, unsurprisingly, that most Prius owners weren't second guessing themselves. Neither are other manufacturers, as Ford and Honda prepare their hybrid assaults early next year.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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38 comments so far...
  1. This estimate is assuming that gas prices are going to stay this low. With assurance, I think we all know that is not going to be the case long term. Gas will get back to where it was previously if not higher. If I were in the market for a new car, I'd be willing to pay the premium because you'll get it back in the long run.

    Posted by Parker December 31, 08 02:22 PM
  1. another 6 inches today. how they drive in the snow?

    global warming wacks

    Posted by ryan December 31, 08 02:38 PM
  1. How long to make up for the lack of noxious emissions from these hybrids?
    The premise of this study is ridiculous.

    Posted by Anne December 31, 08 05:45 PM
  1. I agree with Anne. It's not only a financial argument - it's about being a little greener, too. I'm not upset that I leased a Nissan Altima Hybrid this past summer. I highly doubt gas will be less than $2.25 a gallon in the summer of 2009, and even if it is, I know I'll be polluting less.

    Posted by Seth December 31, 08 07:06 PM
  1. Anyone read the latest Car and Driver article comparing 4 Hybrids - Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry and Chevy Malibu? Fusion easily won in just about every category including fun to drive factor and mpg's. Overall seems hybrids are getting better, cheaper and drive more like conventional cars. Really no reason not to buy a hybrid even if gas prices don't go up to $4/gallon this summer.

    Posted by man3 January 1, 09 11:25 AM
  1. If state and federal tax credits are factored in, the payback period will be much shorter.

    Posted by Greenman January 1, 09 01:52 PM
  1. Actually,, a true functional hybrid would incorporate hydrogen, instead of batteries.
    Hydrogens only bi-product is water. How are dead batteries green? A car runs on hydrogen, just as it does fuel, with practically no mechanical alterations, but, cost effective cells can only amortize fuel, not totally replace it. Unlike batteries, hydrogen provides your vehicle with heat when needed, meaning hybrids with batteries get worse winter mileage. Least we also forget that battery hybrids get lower MPG ratings on the highway.

    Posted by Dave W January 1, 09 06:27 PM
  1. Where does the electricity come from to re-charge the batteries in the hybrid cars?. . . Burning of fossil fuels at power plants. .

    Posted by Anonymous January 2, 09 06:35 AM
  1. Great thinking there Dave W! Have you ever wondered for even a split second where hydrogen comes from? Or is it just so magical that you don't consider it?

    Posted by Jon Fraud Carry January 2, 09 08:07 AM
  1. Hydrogen currently comes from fossil fuels, and thus makes less efficient use of the fuel than burning it. (Less carbon dioxide emissions, probably; but I'm not sure)

    Making hydrogen from water makes it an energy storage medium, because it takes more energy to split water than you'll get back; no process is 100% efficient.
    Currently, only nuclear power is cost effective to produce hydrogen; solar is far too expensive, and fossil fuel plants would produce pollution. (National Academy of Engineering study, in 2003. There have been no breakthroughs yet to change this conclusion)

    Posted by SBK January 2, 09 09:40 AM
  1. From an R&D / marketing standpoint, the fact that current hybrids save a buyer enough on gas to EVER let them offset the additional sticker price is amazing.

    Posted by jared January 2, 09 10:22 AM
  1. A car only a wussy tree hugger could like.

    UGLY and slow, a hazard on the interstates due to its lack of power.

    Posted by Carbon Burner January 2, 09 11:07 AM
  1. My god these comments are ignorant.
    Hydrogen cars have batteries like hybrids, as they must store energy.
    Under current technology, hydrogen is derived from fossil fuels, such as natural gas.
    Anonymous asked: "Where does the electricity come from to re-charge the batteries in the hybrid cars?" It comes from the energy the car would otherwise lose in braking. You don't need another energy source for hybrids' batteries.

    The EPA is not doing anyone any favors with these types of releases. Obviously gas will not stay at this price, and although Toyotas are not eligible for tax credits, other hybrids are, thus reducing the payback time. How about the EPA actually haveing some concern for the ENVIRONMENT at some point?

    Posted by AL5000 January 2, 09 01:29 PM
  1. I drive a hybrid vehicle. I was aware of the premium when I purchased it. I am an accountant - I ran the numbers and (even with high gas prices), understood that I would not make any money on gas savings. I did not purchase the vehicle to save money on gas. I purchased it so that I would use less gas and lower my emissions, consequently diminishing my carbon footprint. The premium was the price to pay for a smaller footprint and it was (is) worth it to me.

    Posted by Mary January 2, 09 02:14 PM
  1. Actually, this version is a lot clearer than the earlier one. At least this author is choosing vehicles from the same "Family Sedan" group. Sad to say, he chose the $19,145 2.4L 4-Cyl. 5-Speed Manual, not the $20,195 automatic transmission version. The Prius only comes with an automatic transmission.

    According to the Toyota web page, this makes about $1,050 change in the price calculation and shortens the payback significantly. In fact, this one change reduces the cost to about $3,000. I haven't factored in the alloy wheels and other standard options of the Prius the Camry may lack.

    Bob Wilson
    625k Inc.

    Posted by Bob Wilson January 2, 09 02:30 PM
  1. Greenman (or anyone else who may know),
    What are the current tax credits for hybrids?

    Posted by e January 2, 09 02:32 PM
  1. There is no "Hybrid premium" on the Prius. It is a mid-sized hatchback, with comparable interior room and amenities to other mid-sized cars that cost slightly MORE.

    The hybrid Camry, yes, is a bit more than the standard Camry. However, that distinction is rarely mentioned.

    So, how long until your gas-guzzling SUV pays you back for the "SUV Premium"?

    Posted by RaeVynn January 2, 09 02:35 PM
  1. To find out the current hybrid models that are eligible for federal tax credits, go to the IRS site at,,id=157632,00.html. Certain diesel models, like the VW Jetta, are also eligible.

    Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 2, 09 03:02 PM
  1. For Pete's sake!

    If you're going to try and make a "hybrid premium" argument, then at least do an apples to apples comparison (don't compare the most expensive Prius to the least expensive non-hybrid models you can find.) If you do this (using a Camry with keyless entry, an automatic transmission, etc.), you get a so-called "hybrid premium" of about $400. Big deal, isn't it?

    Posted by Dan January 2, 09 03:45 PM
  1. About "hybrid payback". This is a myth. I asked my boss what the payback period was for his BMW 535 vs the 525. He gave me a blank stare. This is the correct response because there is no such thing as a "payback period". What is the payback period for leather seats? A high output V8 engine? A towing package? Built-in DVD player? Air conditioning? You get the idea? Good.....let's move on.

    Something for Carbon burner to ponder.....

    Car, 0-60 mph, 1/4 mile time,
    2009 Prius, 10.3 sec, 17.5 sec
    1975 Camaro 350ci, 10.5 sec, 17.4 sec
    1973 Chevy Nova 350ci , 9.7 sec, 17.4 sec
    1977 Dodge Charger 400ci, 11.8 sec, 17.4 sec
    1966 Ford Mustang 289 (auto,) 10.9 sec, 17.9 sec


    Ryan - Global warming whacks? Please do publish your data to demonstrate that global warming is a bunch of hooie. There is a lot of data supporting a model that global warming is real and it is caused by man. If you have data to the contrary, please do publish it, because, so far, no one has been able to successfully challenge the current model.

    AL-5000 - The hybrid will need to recharge its batteries using the cumbustion engine as well.

    Dave W. - Yes hybrid EPA estimates are lower on the highways, but a Prius highway mileage is better than pretty much anything on the road currently. There are exceptions that may get better highway mpg (CRX-HF, Insight, rabbit diesel), but they are very few and very far inbetween.

    Posted by Codyroo January 2, 09 04:04 PM
  1. Hybrid, shmybrid. Horse and buggy is in our future. Unless we are going to start building nuclear power stations we are NOT going to have enough electricity to power all those innovations. With Gore and dems hell bent to kill coal and oil fired power stations electricity will be so expensive that it'll approach the cost of today’s gas. Sun, wind and bio will never replace oil and coal. Nuclear is the ONLY energy that can give us enough electricity to power up. But eco-nazis at the helm would prefer to see us in the poor house first and then freeze to death rather then bend on their craziness.

    Posted by GB January 2, 09 04:35 PM
  1. Hey GB,
    Where did you do your research on nuclear?

    Posted by Peter Chandonait January 2, 09 05:42 PM
  1. Anyone who buys a non-efficient car nowadays is a FULL BLOWN MORON, plain and simple.

    Cars are for getting places, not for feeling better about yourself and showing how cool and rich you are.

    Keep poking fun you idiots who could care less about the Earth and the hell you will leave to your great-grandchildren. I get over 450 miles on a single tank of gas and it costs me $15 to fill from Empty to Full.... how's your SUV doin?

    Posted by nate January 2, 09 06:18 PM
  1. Hybrids are for suckers. There' s nothing green, reliable, or economical about the massive, noxious batteries in a hybrid.

    Buy a diesel.

    Posted by Smarten Up! January 2, 09 06:49 PM
  1. Codyroo - it is for the proponents of the AGW theory to prove their theory is true, not up to skeptics to prove it false (though the case against AGW is getting stronger every day and the case for it weaker).

    The simple fact is, AGW proponents cannot substantiate their theory in the real world, only in the virtual world of bogus computer models.

    Posted by Smarten Up! January 2, 09 06:54 PM
  1. Smarten Up!

    A theory can NEVER be proven true. It can only be debunked/proven false. This is taught in basic science classes and reiterated throughout all science classes. In your post #24, I'm assuming you are referring to the Nickel mining used to make the battery. Turns out, a truck uses about 2/3 as much nickle as a Prius (thus 3 full sized trucks = Nickel amount of 2 Prius). The hybrid battery can be recycled (I've read about 70% can be recycled). These facts do tend to weaken your arguement, considerably.

    No car is green. No car is an "investment". They are holes in the ground to pour money into. It's just that a fuel efficient car is a smaller hole that you pour money into more slowly (and the hybrids pollute out of the tailpipe).

    While no model is perfect, nor can it simulate ALL the intricacies of the real world, the current model has been reasonable in its design and its predictions are in the ballpark. This makes it a good, working model.

    Posted by Codyroo January 2, 09 08:01 PM
  1. I heard that Bernie Madoff got a new job selling Prius cars, apparently the job for scam artists in 2009.

    Posted by Crudmugeon January 3, 09 05:08 AM
  1. Hi Smarten up,

    You really need to do what your monicer says. A Prius hybrid battery is not massive. It weighs less than the three lead-acid batteries your going to go through in your standard car's life. Its metal is 100 % recyclable, as its nickel, and nickel is expensive. Unlike lead which is so heavy, and cheap, you see these batteries on the side of the road, and noboby willing to take them to be recycled.

    Posted by donee January 3, 09 09:13 AM
  1. Hi Smarten up,

    The Prius is being used as a taxi in many places. The great benefits Taxi operators experience are more than fuel economy. The hybrid system triples friction brake life. And the simple clutchless, gearbox transmission lasts the life of the car. So, if anything the Prius is far more reliable than a standard automatic transmission car.

    Posted by donee January 3, 09 09:17 AM
  1. I wonder what price the EPA based their assessment on. One can pay well under sticker price for a car, even a Prius. I did.

    Posted by Meri January 4, 09 04:16 AM
  1. As usual it all boils down to money for people in our greed driven society. In other words if gas is $3.00 it would take about 4.5 years. How long does it take to break even with a corvette or escalade. The answer is, It will never happen. This assault on energy efficiency and environmentally less damaging technology is of course being driven by those who have missed the boat and have little or no concern for the future of their planet. General Motors, Ford, Chyrsler, jeep, land rover, etc. etc. in complicity with big oil. Ironically, if they had become leaders, instead beggars, we could have had it all by now.

    Posted by careman January 4, 09 11:48 AM
  1. Ok, it's obvious the Boston Globe/author does not like the Prius given all the negative articles that have come up over the last month. I, personally, don't care, they say the best revenge is to live a good life, which expresses itself succinctly at the gas station when I get change back from a $20 for a full tank. Meanwhile, the guy in the SUV is still standing out there in the cold while I'm well on my way to yet another fine dinner given all the money I've saved. As such, OPEC would like to thank all non-hybrid owners, and particularly SUV owners, for all the fine dining they've done, and how excited they are, eagerly anticipating the latest Ferrari special edition to add to their collection.

    Posted by Andrew January 5, 09 12:33 PM
  1. Easy there, Codyroo. Global warming? - yes. Caused by man? - not enough data.
    You need about 10,000 more years of data to make such an assessment . The media back in the 70's was talking about global cooling. Now it's global warming. What happened? It's called normal variation and the Earth has hundreds of millions of years of historical data - going well beyond when our nice oil producing friends became extinct - that shows an active planet heating and cooling. The fact is, you can't look at a short period of time, a virtual sliver in the Earth's history and make such an assertion. Then again, I guess you can...and perhaps even write books on the subject...and even be a TV personality or a movie star. Yeah, that will make it believable.

    Posted by Z3 January 5, 09 05:05 PM
  1. Z3 - Although this thread is possibly dead by now, I will respond.

    I very well remember the "global cooling" coming of another Ice Age theory of the 70's. I want you to consider something....what if they were correct, that we were in a global cooling period 30 years ago. AND in 30 years we've completely reversed a 10,000 year process and are moving it the other way. Now THAT should scare you. I would tend to believe modern models compared to 30 year old models on climate change, as we have a lot more data and many more sophisticated ways to collect, categorize, and interpret the data. One laptop today has more computing power than entire rooms full of computers from 30 years ago (and now how much would it take to make the 6 million dollar man? Heh)

    As I've state earlier, the current/best models in science point to global warming as being a man made /man caused event. Yes, there are normal variations in temperature on this planet.....but the model is indicating is that what we are experiencing ISN'T normal.

    Posted by Codyroo January 8, 09 12:33 AM
  1. Codyroo - You are entileled to believe what you want. All I can say is a fact is no truer than the source. And if you seek out the facts you will find this is all hype.
    Go ahead and google "earth temperature cycles" and look at the first 3 or 4 hits. Same message in all - it an't us.

    Posted by Z3 January 11, 09 04:35 PM
  1. hmm, Z3, I guess the National Academies of Sciences or the American Association for the Advancement of Science weren’t your sources. Must be too much trouble for you to look at what object, credible experts are saying.

    Posted by JM February 3, 09 03:46 PM
  1. I am a Hummer H1 driver, a biodiesel producer/promoter and I can tell all of you hybrid owners, you can all argue how green you are but in the end you all burn petroleum. Albeit you burn less than large vehicles, but at a greater sacrifice of not supporting your own country's auto industry (I know they are evil American's there in Detroit), safety for you and your family in a death trap econo-box, your individuality (let's all be the same little sheep) and for all this you still burn petroleum and create a battery waste disposal problem. You are no different than anyone else. No better.

    Although this thread seems to be civilized, the only comment I see here with any logic (both environmental and pocket book) is diesel. Case and point: The 2009 VW diesel Jetta out performs every hybrid on the market in fuel mpg and clean air. Best part is you can run biofuels as it begins to make sense.

    So stop the hybrid-hipocracy. You are all victims of exceptional corporate marketing from Japan. They learned from their mistakes in the 80's. This time they packaged a vision that you bought (even when the numbers don't work and there are obvious environmental impacts beyond just good fuel mileage). They made sure they had a product you would believe in (who needs facts) and ensured they built them in U.S. plants so as to give us the impression these are American made cars, benefiting Americans. This is about you feeling good about your choice and trying to save money at the pump, nothing more. It really has nothing to do with the environment or you would buy a diesel that gets the same mileage as your hybrid and pay premium fuel prices to run clean burning, non-petroleum biodiesel.

    Posted by Bio Hummers February 6, 09 12:24 PM
  1. hydrogen is commercially made now from fossil fuels,,,did you ever wonder what that whole "H2O" thing meant?
    fossil fuels are "another" way to get it, not the natural way.

    Posted by davew February 13, 09 09:16 PM

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
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George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
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