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Bankrate's 2007 New Car Guide
The auto world's in a period of great change. How will it affect you?
High hopes remain for hybrids
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Wiesenfelder points out that these EPA figures are almost consistently wrong. "They don't accurately tell you what gas mileage you're going to get and consumers don't tend to know what their fuel economy is -- they think in terms of how often they fill up instead of how much fuel they are burning."

Buying a hybrid may be the right thing to do, but it probably won't save you money in the long run. -- Joe Wiesenfelder, senior editor, Cars.com.

Savvy consumers who follow these ratings will be pleased to know that the EPA has introduced a new mileage-calculation system that applies to all 2008 model-year vehicles. The hope is that these standards will force manufacturers to lower their efficiency claims on their hybrid vehicles, and therefore provide a more accurate mileage representation for consumers.

Still, hybrids don't make sense for everyone. "A lot of it depends on one's individual driving habits," Wiesenfelder says.

Hybrids are much more efficient for city driving than they are on the highways. Wiesenfelder notes that street driving makes the most of capturing that energy that is then transformed into electricity, which recharges the batteries and increases the number of miles that are traveled per gallon of gasoline. Hybrids actually perform best when idling or stuck in traffic; in contrast, speeding, hard braking and hard acceleration will not help even a hybrid driver from paying more visits to the gas pump. The uncertain cost of replacing those battery packs several years down the road also may eat into any long-range savings.

Can hybrids save the planet?
Ultimately, people buy hybrids for reasons other than lowering their gas costs. "People buy cars for psychological reasons. They buy cars that make them feel good," says Jack Nerad, executive editorial director and executive market analyst at Kelley Blue Book. "Hybrids are no different -- people buy these cars because of their environmental and geopolitical beliefs."

A recent survey of Toyota Prius owners backs up Nerad's claim. More than 50 percent of Prius owners surveyed by CNW Marketing Research this spring said their primary motivation for buying the Prius was, "It makes a statement about me." Only a third of Prius owners cited that reason just three years ago, according to CNW, which tracks the buying trends of consumers.

Of course, there are other environmentally friendly answers to achieving higher fuel economy, such as not using foreign sources of oil and using clean diesel and ethanol, Nerad says. While the market analyst says he's pro-hybrid, he's not wearing rose-colored glasses. "I respect the engineering and the reasons to consider hybrids,'' says Nerad. "I think people are buying them for good reasons." 

-- Posted: Aug. 2, 2007
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