Gas, as we know, is becoming ridiculously expensive. Add that to what we now know about global warming and we see many people clamoring to ditch their old cars to buy new hybids. I know I sure did it, trading my Mazda 3 hatchback in for a Prius last year when my Mazda lease ran out. Now that I’m used to getting 40-55 MPG, I know I’ll never buy another full-gasoline vehicle again.
The trick with the Prius — like other “do-right” products — is that it costs a little more upfront than the average compact or midsize car. At this point, I’m used to paying a premium for organic, local, ethical goods; the idea being that if more of us did it, the premium would disappear as the product becomes normalized and supply increases to meet demand. I bought the Prius to use less gas and reduce pollution, not to save myself a whole bunch of money on a car.
Apparently, I have a weird notion of true cost of ownership (TCO). Recently, Edmunds released a report on the total cost of hybrid ownership and found that, by their standards, a hybrid car isn’t the best way to save money in the long run. When they look at vehicle purchase cost, maintenance, fuel use, and insurance, they found that non-hybrid cars with good fuel economy were the better price performers. Here’s how they think potential car buyers should look at TCO:
“Many consumers neglect to consider total ownership costs when deciding which vehicle to buy,” said Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com. “Shoppers should look beyond fuel economy and consider the big picture when determining how a vehicle purchase will fit into their household budget.”
I agree that people should only buy a vehicle that they can afford. Debt is a terrible thing, and people need to learn to buy more reasonably and within their means. But the “big picture” is a lot bigger than just figuring out the finances. While it might be cheaper for me to buy a Honda Civic (I used to have one), the fuel economy of that car combined with the emissions makes it a loser in the big picture of climate change and dependence on oil.
Even more frustrating is this blog post on Edmunds.com about the TCO of hybrids. At first, it seems as though they’re going to state that folks should consider more than the long-term cost of car ownership. But then the writer goes on to state that people buying hybrids based on “preceived [sic] fuel savings” are taking a “…shallow approach to the economics of car buying…” Just when I was about the let these guys off the hook, they make me more aggravated!
The notion that true cost of ownership is all about money seems ethically bankrupt and a shallow approach to purchasing and life decisions. If Edmunds wants to get into the details, they should factor in the cost of oil exploration, drilling, refinement, and shipping over the lifetime of a vehicle. My guess is that every car is pretty expensive in those terms, and the extra couple thousand dollars spent on a hybrid or alternative fuel vehicle will pale in comparison.
It’s time for us to re-evaluate how we think about cost, ownership, and responsibility in our purchases. Focusing on price has gotten us where we are today, which is clearly incompatible with future growth and development. We need to take a look at the really big picture and make some serious changes if we’re going to turn this climate change and over-consumption culture around.