Living the hybrid dream…and occasional unpleasant reality checks

Part 1- Buying the car

So I have finally got the car of my dreams. Well, that would be the car of my recent dreams (let’s say the last 2.5 years): a Toyota Prius and its snazzy hybrid synergy engine.

2008 Toyota Prius
2008 Toyota Prius

Prior to 2009 I hadn’t really considered buying a hybrid car, presuming it was way out of my price range. Truth be told it still ended up a bit on the high-end of pricey. I ended up paying a shade under $18 000 for a 2008 Toyota Prius recently, which is about $5000-$8000 more than I wanted to spend. My pay rate doesn’t justify an (over)expenditure  of this size, but the car did have one big thing going for it other than fuel mileage: organizational cred.

I work in the environmental sector, so it was a bit of a high to live the hybrid dream, enjoying the (qualified) praise of co-workers.  There are enough ways in my life that I don’t successfully walk the talk, so it was a pleasure to be able to do this one thing. I had fantasies of wafting down the streets of Hamilton on the wings of environmental angels: no noise from the electric motor, minimal gasoline fumes, and lots of somewhat hazily calculated carbon emission tonne savings piling up.

The other, more down-to-earth advantage that the Prius had going for it was projected overall life-span expenditure. I created an (overly) elaborate spreadsheet to number crunch what I figured I would pay for/on this car over the expected lifespan of ownership.I own a car typically for about eight years, driving it slowly into the ground. It doesn’t matter how pretty the car is at the start of its odessey with me. The end result is always the same: a well-driven, usually heavily-mended, occasionally accident-affected, growling and sputtering  junkyard-ready metal mongrel.

For my analysis I calculated the initial cost of the Prius and its competition and costs of regular maintenance . In the case of the Prius I arbitrarily set that figure at double the rate of a conventional car, based on the apocryphal story I had heard that it takes a minimum of two hybrid specialist techs to look at any hybrid in the garage, vs only one non-hybrid specialist tech for a regular car.

I calculated my average number of km I drive in a year, which I set at 30 000 -35 000 km. year. This is, I am told, higher than the norm, and it’s certainly higher than what my insurance company seems to think I should drive, but I wanted to be as “realistic” as possible. Don’t forget: my wife and I are, by nature, “drivers”. That is to say we have not yet evolved out of our dinosaur-age penchant for Sunday drives and last-night hamburger runs. Erring on the side of more km per year seemed fair.

The big item in this increasingly complex labyrinth of a spreadsheet was the fuel cost over  8 years. Given my stated driving estimates, how much gas would I consume over eight years of ownership? And here is where the Prius finally began to shine.

For the record, my runner-up car was a 2008 Ford Fusion. This was a bigger car, and considerably more luxurious than the Prius and I really really enjoyed driving it.The interior was all leather… completely unsuitable, of course, for transporting a 4 year old. But I did have momentary dreams of sealing the child car seat in a blanket-shrouded, plastic covered bubble, turning on the high-end sound system, and cruising merrily down the QEW in style.  But only for moment.

It’s very odd that I went into the Ford Fusion test drive looking for a reason to NOT like it, so that I could justify to myself the purchase of the Prius. Ironically at the other end of the Ford Fusion test drive, I really wanted a reason to not buy the PRIUS. Yes, the experience was that good that it turned my preconception on its ear.

But here’s the rub: I looked up the fuel consumption costs for both the 2008 Prius and the 2008 Fusion from Natural Resources Canada’s Fuel Consumption website.

This is a wonderful site with lots of good info on every car available in Canada going back several decades.  The rated fuel consumption for that fabulously luxurious Ford Fusion was 12.0 L/100 km . The 2008 Toyota Prius’s rated fuel consumption was 4.0 L / 100 km.

That’s a pretty shocking difference, but it was made even worse when I calculated the cost of the fuel to drive both vehicles at my stated 30 000 – 35 000 km per year for eight years.

I tried a couple of different gas price variables (with the spreadsheet now bordering on a complexity suitable to determining the nine billion names of God), but ultimately decided that the average price over the next 8 years is likely to settle somewhere around $1.40. Sure, it’s cheaper now, but the price has spiked as high as that recently, and the long-term trend is for gas to go up and up and up. So, I felt comfortable pegging it at $1.40 /L average and taking my chances.

Gas  costs were ultimately the difference-maker:

For me to own the Ford Fusion, I projected over 8 years, it would cost me $60 000 (including purchase price, maintenance, and gas).

For me to own the Toyota Prius, I projected over 8 years, it would cost me $48 000 (including the same).

That’s a $12 000 difference over 8 years, even accounting for the fact the Prius was $2000 more than the Fusion in the initial purchase price.

That number loomed so large it became the reason I was able to convince myself to forgo the luxury of the Fusion and “settle” for the bland efficiency of the Prius. So what if it’s only got a cloth interior? It’s got a push button keyless starter! More on that later…


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