Video: Hybrids — the new hot cars

By Anne Thompson Chief environmental correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/16/2005 7:30:32 PM ET 2005-08-16T23:30:32

Clay Chandler is looking for his second hybrid, this time an SUV, because as the owner of a Toyota Prius, he’s one of the few people smiling at the pump. “It’s especially nice when you go into a gas station and everyone else is going past $30 dollars and mine stops at $10 or $11,” says Chandler.

That’s the promise of these vehicles with electric motors and gas engines — but what’s the reality?

David Champion tests cars for Consumer Reports. The government says the popular Prius gets 60 miles a gallon in the city and 51 on the highway. But in real-world driving, Champion, got less.

“We found very similar results on the highway,” said Champion, “But instead of 60 miles per gallon we only got 35 miles per gallon in the city. So it’s a huge difference.”

And not all hybrids are the same. While they started out emphasizing fuel economy — by using the electric motor at low speeds — today, some cars like the Honda Accord hybrid emphasize performance, using the electric motor to boost the gas engine.

“The Honda Accord hybrid gives you almost a second quicker zero to 60, but only gives you maybe 2 miles per gallon overall in terms of your fuel savings,” says Champion.

There’s more to consider than just gas savings: This technology is expensive — adding $3,000 to almost $12,000 to the price.

Automotive analysts say these green vehicles depreciate faster and, because they are more expensive, cost more to insure.

"Hybrids make great sense if you want to make a statement," adds Champion. "If you purely want to save money, they’re a little less defensible.”

In fact, after crunching the numbers, Edmunds.com found only the Prius saved the buyer money after five years — just $81 over a conventional Camry.

It doesn’t matter to Scott Neal, who’s about to buy a hybrid SUV.

"I will have fun driving it," says Neal, “And I will be helping the ecology and keeping pollution down.”

And that, he and other hybrid owners believe, makes all the sense in the world.

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