Fuel economy is at an all-time premium, but paying a premium for greater fuel efficiency does not always lead to a savings over the long term. Consumer Reports, as others have, recently found in an eco-model round-up that the fuel savings don’t cover the efficiency premium.
Short term versus long term
Fuel prices have been consistently rising, leading to increasingly fuel efficient cars and more hybrid models being offered.
However, those savings come at a cost. Hybrids demand a significant upfront premium, as do plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. So much so, that the amount one saves at the pump does not always cover the extra cost of buying them over the duration of ownership.
For instance, according to Edmunds, a Ford Escape Hybrid will take 8.4 years for the hybrid premium over the regular model to pay off in gas savings, with gas at $3.45 per gallon. With $5 per gallon, it would take 5.8 years. The Toyota Camry Hybrid would, assuming those same prices, takes 7.3 and 5 years, respectively. Most people, according to Kelly Blue Book, keep their cars for almost six years.
Eco models also don’t cover costs
A recent survey by Consumer Reports, according to AutoBlog, looked at “eco” models of various cars. The “eco” models aren’t necessarily hybrids; rather, cars such as the Ford Focus SFE and Honda Civic HF, use transmission, engine and fuel injection tuning to deliver the most mileage per gallon.
Consumer Reports looked at the Ford Focus SFE, the Civic HF and the Chevrolet Cruze Eco, testing their fuel economy in real-world driving tests and calculated the fuel savings compared to their standard counterparts. CR found the Focus SFE and Civic HF both got three miles per gallon better than the standard Focus and Civic, for annual savings of $145 and $135 per year, respectively. The eco-option costs $495 for the Ford and $800 for the Honda.
The Cruze Eco got only one mile per gallon more than its regular counterpart, a $20 annual savings. The Eco model costs $770.
Less money up front is always less money
People think that opting for a more fuel efficient car means saving money. However, paying more in the long run on sticker price and in loan interest means the buyer is paying more for the car, period. In essence, people are paying more in fixed costs to lower a variable cost that isn’t always lowered enough to cover the difference.
Also, all three cars tested by Consumer Reports have “eco” technology added to up-level trims; the base models of all three cars are rated for 36 mpg highway and have an MSRP of $17,000 or less. All three eco models start at $19,000 or more.
If the goal is to save money, the better solution is to buy a low priced, already fuel efficient car and drive it correctly. Less money in sticker and interest means less money, period. For instance, the Nissan Versa is rated at 38 mpg, highway. The MSRP is $10,990.