Where is the 'Hybrid Premium' Really Going?
We all know that hybrid cars are more expensive than comparable gasoline-only cars. That's to be expected since hybrid powertrains are more expensive to manufacture, and a lot of R&D; cash went into them in the past 10-20 years. But even with that taken into account, are hybrids still more expensive than they need to be? Are hybrid car buyers forced to pay for luxury features that they don't want?
The Union of Concerned Scientists seems to think so. They created a hybrid scoreboard where they rank hybrid vehicles based on their environmental performances and how much you are paying for the hybrid powertrain and luxury features compared to a comparable non-hybrid vehicle.
Want a Hybrid? You're Forced to Also Buy These Luxury Options...
They write: "For a typical conventional vehicle, manufacturers offer a base model along with models that include more expensive options such as premium audio packages and upgraded seat covers. Consumers often don't have the option of simply adding a hybrid system to a base model; instead, many hybrid models come with premium or upgraded features as standard equipment. These "forced features" inflate the cost of the hybrid, making it less economical to buyers."
For all the details, check out the hybrid scoreboard.
The methodology they used to rank the vehicles can be found here. Of course, they didn't have access to manufacturer's costs, so they had to estimate the cost of the hybrid drivetrain and of the bundled features based on available information. But even if this is just an estimate, it's a good way to show that in many cases, a lot of the "hybrid premium" is actually going to things like DVD players and leather seats.
This makes sense from the automakers' point of view; they have much bigger margins on these luxury features, so bundling them is improving the margins on hybrids. But it is also keeping away cost-conscious buyers and reducing potential economies of scale.
I suspect that the new stricter fuel efficiency rules and CO2 emission targets that are being adopted around the world combined with a predictable increase in the price of oil when the world economy fully recovers will force automakers to create more affordable hybrids (and plug-in hybrids) that aren't bundled with all kinds of luxuries that many people don't need or want.
But even that is just a step along the way. The future will probably require much better and cleaner public transit, walkable and bikable cities, and electrified vehicles charged from a clean power grid. These things can reduce the average transportation footprint of an individual by a few orders of magnitude, we just need to start implementing...
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