Cost-to-drive gets harder to figure
The quandary that new
car buyers find themselves in this summer
is that while it makes sense to take fuel
economy into account, two moves by the federal
government have made it more difficult than
ever to calculate cost effectiveness.
|New factors to consider:
EPA changed the way it comes up
with the mileage ratings on new
cars -- lowering the numbers substantially.
||Tax credits for the most popular hybrids have vanished, erasing a good portion of the anticipated savings.
First, the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency changed the test procedures
it uses to determine the city-highway fuel
mileage numbers that are affixed to all new-car
price stickers -- meaning 2008-model vehicles
will have lower ratings than the identical
2007 model. The big losers in the EPA recalculation
of fuel mileage are the gas-electric hybrids,
which now carry EPA ratings up to 30 percent
lower than last year. Consider the Toyota
Prius, which has been the darling of the fuel-efficient
fleet. Under the old EPA system, it was rated
at 60 mpg in city driving, 51 mpg highway
and 55 mpg in combined city-highway. The new
system says the Prius is likely to get 48
in city driving (20 percent less), 45 mpg
on the highway (12 percent less) and an average
46 mpg (16 percent less) in combined driving.
The good news is that the new
ratings more accurately reflect what drivers
report in real-world conditions and that the
hybrids are still usually the fuel mileage
champs in various categories, since the new
EPA results also lowered the mileage numbers
for conventional gas-only vehicles.
But for buyers, the hybrid equation is further complicated by the disappearing tax credits available. Because Congress wrote the tax legislation to benefit Detroit-based manufacturers -- who have been late to the hybrid parade -- tax credits for imports like the Prius and the Honda Civic Hybrid evaporated as their sales ramped up. Toyota has responded to the lack of tax credits on the Prius with cash rebates to keep up sales.
“The big losers in the EPA recalculation of fuel mileage are the gas-electric hybrids, which now carry ratings up to 30 percent lower than last year.”
One car, the Honda Accord Hybrid, will exit the market because buyers have rejected the idea of paying more for a car that uses hybrid technology to boost horsepower while only moderately reigning in fuel consumption.
Consumers who haven't shopped
for new cars in the past few years will be
confronted with some new, more fuel-efficient
choices, from subcompact sedans to an expanding
array of sport utility vehicles that are based
on engine and chassis combinations that are
more like sedans.
Cars like the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris and Nissan Versa are testing consumer interest in buying cars that are half the size of the SUVs that have been the favorites of drivers in past years. While sales of these cars have been encouraging, there's no indication that buyers -- even with gas prices around $3 a gallon -- are rushing to downsize.
SUVs remain the vehicles of choice for many buyers, who feel that the added cargo capacity and passenger room of an SUV best suits their lifestyles.
Crossover SUVs like the Ford
Edge, Chevrolet Equinox and Mazda CX join
longstanding crossovers like the Toyota Highlander
and the Honda Pilot. These vehicles offer
interior room and styling that's similar to
traditional SUVs like the Ford Explorer and
the Chevrolet Tahoe, but with better fuel
mileage and often a more comfortable ride.
The compromise is that crossover SUVs usually
sacrifice some off-road and towing capabilities.