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Does Cheap Gasoline Make Toyota Prius Less Attractive?

Toyota Prius - Cheap Gas or Low Emissions?
Toyota Prius – Cheap Gas or Low Emissions?

Toyota Prius is a hybrid electric vehicle, the most popular in the United States and just one of over six million Toyota hybrid vehicles sold around the world.

There are two reasons to buy a hybrid vehicle, such as the Toyota Prius, which offers better fuel economy than just about everything else on the road in its class: Toyota Prius generates fewer emissions and costs less to refuel. At least, it used to cost less to refuel, because now gasoline prices are dropping so precipitously that some people think that green cars are losing their luster. That’s what one writer asserts in an article, entitled “With $2 Gas, the Toyota Prius Is for Drivers Who Stink at Math,” which appeared yesterday on BloombergBusinessweek.

In this *cough* well-thought-out exposition, the author compares cost-to-own of three different vehicles, the conventional Chevy Cruze, the hybrid electric Toyota Prius, and the battery electric Nissan Leaf. Counting federal tax credits and refueling costs, the article suggests that it would take nearly thirty years for the Toyota Prius to pay for itself in gasoline savings, which brings up a host of fuzzy math problems. The Nissan Leaf, on the other hand, seems like it can pay for itself in about four years. I can only wonder what kind of fuzzy math the author was using to come up with these assumptions.

  • Assumption One – The Nissan Leaf, apparently, uses no fuel at all. I’m not sure which model the author was looking at, but Nissan Leaf has not, as yet, gone fully solar, so there has to be some ongoing recharging expenses. Ignorance, I guess, is really cheap.
  • Assumption Two – Gasoline will continue to be cheap. You’re kidding, right? Since when has gasoline done anything but fluctuate? (see graph) It can’t last. Even the last decade of gasoline prices are all over the graph. The current oil boom won’t last, if major oil company predictions hold out, and gasoline will soon be on the rise again. Any pipe dreams will quickly evaporate.
Do you really think that gasoline prices will stabilize?
Do you really think that gasoline prices will stabilize?
  • Assumption Three – People buy Toyota Prius only because it saves money at the pump. True, people only interested in the bottom line may have been interested in hybrid vehicles for their cheaper refueling costs. On the other hand, your average run-of-the-mill Toyota Prius owner is very interested in things like sustainability, carbon dioxide emissions, and the environment. Can you put a price on that?

So, are Toyota Prius owners whipping out their financial calculators or their carbon footprint calculators? I’m willing to bet it’s the latter.

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  1. Ya, that headline yesterday just wreaked of an article written by a highly-functioning individual. And they put this graph in it, and all of the colors are virtually identical! And when you say the graph is of purchase price plus fuel over time, well, unless you’re not driving the vehicle anymore, the lines better all go up! Thank you for pointing out to everyone how ridiculous it is to presume these gas prices that Americans have enjoyed ALL WEEK, will become the new normal. Especially over the period of time one should be considering when buying a car. You still should really try to wrap your head around what 114MPGe means. Because that doesn’t change with gas prices. And if hydrogen becomes the new big thing, guess what?, you can make power plants that use that non-polluting fuel source to generate the electricity to charge my LEAF! Those could be used to supplement the existing 17% wind power produced locally.


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