• Feb 1st 2010 at 11:02AM
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2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid – Click above for high-res image gallery

If you've gone shopping for a hybrid vehicle in the last several years, you may have noticed that they often have substantially higher price tags than conventional counterparts. Of course, it's inevitable that a hybrid will cost several thousand dollars more than a comparably equipped conventional model. After all the hybrid has a lot of extra hardware installed and the powertrain requires more engineering development time than a standard engine.

The problem comes when you try to do that "comparably equipped" comparison. Options and equipment packages are where automakers make much of their profit margins, and entry level models have much smaller margins. Because of the initial investment required to develop hybrids in the first place, automakers tend to bundle more equipment with hybrids so that they can hide some of that cost. The fear is that an expensive hybrid with less equipment might not be salable. General Motors got a lot of criticism when it launched the two-mode hybrid SUVs because the near $50,000 price tag that was only available with features like leather seating and a navigation system.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has put together a table of hybrids and rated each based on "forced features," "hybrid value," and environmental score. The Toyota Prius got top marks for value and environmental benefit and a relatively good, although not great, score on forced features. The Honda Civic and Ford Fusion hybrids got dinged for bundling more features. The Lexus LS600h and GM SUVs got slammed for biasing the hybrid systems to performance and requiring a lot of content. Check out the full scorecard.

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Photos copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
[Source: Union of Concerned Scientists]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      Hybrids cost more to build. More technology, expensive batteries, etc. The price tag of a hybrid will for a long time be substantially higher than a comparable non-hybrid vehicle.

      The "luxury features" found on some hybrids such as leather, nav, power/heated seats etc, cost VERY LITTLE to the car company. VERY LITTLE.

      The hybrid components cost VERY MUCH to the car company.

      GMs two mode hybrid SUV for $50,000 would have even lower sales figures if it sold for $45 000 WITHOUT leather, nav, etc. The richies would not pay $45 000 for a vehicle without nav and leather. However, GM would not be able to sell it much under $45k, due to the cost of hybrid components.

      The only person getting screwed in the one who buys a $50k SUV that still gets worse mileage than a $24k SUV.

      This is not "deceitful" or a conspiracy. It's marketing and economics. Look at Tesla; making a very high end vehicle first to cover the initial costs without having to sell in volume, then introducing a slightly cheaper model, then perhaps eventually a widely affordable model.

      Keep this in mind; the air doesn't discriminate. Let the richies buy vehicles that burn less gas. We all benefit.

      • 5 Years Ago
      Well, for the Fusion the "forced" items are exactly what I would be ordering anyway. I understand their point, but as stated above by wincros let the buying public decide.

      That said, I probably won't y a Fusion because I can't live with the trunk space reduction and loss of fold-down rear seats that the battery location causes. I use my fold down seats way too often to give them up. Even with the seats up my 2006 Jetta has a huge trunk.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The biggest terrorists are your own corporations and government officials that collude with Saudis, hit squads, and oil companies to create the gigantic money machines called wars.

        I'd like to know what meds you're on to quell your guilt while you walk around in denial praising the people and industries that brought so much misery to so many around the world. Yeah...blame it on the terrorists. After all OPEC and the oil firms don't work together or anything...no of course not.
        • 5 Years Ago
        There's a flex-fuel version of the new Fusion that gets far less hype... the 3.0liter V6.

        No trunk space reduction issues, far lower cost than the hybrid, and the ability to run alternate fuel whenever you can find it.


        Even if there isn't an E85 station near you, your buying and owning a flex fuel vehicle helps build the case for one. They've grown from 300 stations in 2003 to over 2,000 now.

        In fact it's a better idea than the hybrid, because even if everyone uses less oil OPEC can just slash production, spike the per-unit price, and make just as much as before on reduced sales volume - so the terrorists' budget is unaffected.

        But if everyone switched to E85 or M85, then the world would change drastically.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Saturn and Scion have the right idea: à la carte options, and reasonable prices with no negotiation.

      Sincerely, Neil
      • 5 Years Ago
      Much as I respect the Union of Concerned Scientists it does not extend to advice on marketing. Maybe let the car companies do what they do the best. After all they have created a market for trucks and SUVs that is not logical for the customer and very profitable for the car companies. If you want to talk about motivations and goals, that is something else.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This is laughable. The LS600HL is a luxury car, do they really think someone spending that kind of money doesn't want luxury features, same for large SUVs? As for the Fusion and Civic, Ford and Honda are trying to build in more content for these models to help off-set the cost of the system. The Prius comes out okay because it does not have a gas only option. A Prius with a 1.8 liter engine only would be at significantly cheaper. Someone needs to let the "Concerned" scientist know that these companies are for profit organizations, not charities. If they want a charitable car company they can start one themselves.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yeah, I don't know how they could put the Prius on the list. As you said, there is no other option. Besides, special power trains (whether they be high hp or fuel savers) have always been packaged with other options. Z06, STi, M3; they all come gold plated because the buyers want their cars to stand out and the companies want their special models to be looked at favorably from every aspect.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Meanwhile, it costs about $130 per car for an automaker to add flex fuel capability to a model; a tiny fraction of the four or five figure cost of hybrid capability. Why won't one of them just take the bold step and make flex fuel a standard feature across the line?

      Inertia is one reason, but another is that it's hard to justify to the bean counters. It's not clear that the public will recognize or appreciate this capability which is not as easy to take advantage of, especially if there are few or no E85 pumps in the area. So there's a strong possibility that in effect all a company that does this is doing is shaving a bit from its profit margin (or adding to its per-car losses). Personally I think marketing can overcome this problem - adding biofuel capability to each car should be a big PR boost, and the more cars on the road that can use E85 the more pumps there will be.

      Still, the best way to break through the logjam is just to mandate that flex fuel capability be a standard feature like seatbelts. When everyone does it, then nobody will feel disadvantaged by doing it, and suddenly the market share of alcohol compatible cars skyrockets each year, making it much easier for gas stations to sell alcohol.

      Since methanol is so cheap (and with potentially much fatter profit margins for early entrants), they'd race each other to offer it.
        • 5 Years Ago
        There's not enough farmland to expand flex-fuel, and eat.
        • 5 Years Ago
        There's PLENTY of farmland and agricultural capacity.

        Only one half of arable land in America is farmland and less than half of our farmland is even cultivated. We use only 1% of our land to farm for ethanol. That leaves staggering room for dramatic expansion, not even counting the lush tropics which do not live up to their production potential because they use low-yield techniques because they are poor and lack access to markets (like us) to sell their produce.

        Nobody today is going hungry because of a food shortage; hunger is caused by war or highly restrictive economic policies (North Korea, Zimbabwe).

        US and EU farmers are so hyper-efficient and productive they flood the world with a cornucopia. We pay our farmers NOT to farm to prevent even more food from drowning the world and crashing prices so low they cause widespread farm bankruptcies.

        Not only that, US per acre corn crop yields are rising all the time, up 17% in the 5 years between 2002 and 2007 alone. Iowa now produces more corn than the entire US did in the 1940s, and probably with far fewer farmers.

        Also, methanol can be made from coal, natural gas, or any biomass without exception, including crop residues (like corncobs, stems, and leaves, multiplying per-acre alcohol fuel yields), fast-growing weed plants like kudzu and water hyacinths, trash, and even sewage (no chance of a shortage there).

        Switching to alcohol fuel will NOT lead to hunger; in fact it will enable poor farmers in the tropics to finally leave subsistence farming behind, farm a cash crop, earn hard currency, and enter modernity.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Honda makes the cheapest hybrid available and it's still not that cheap. And how's that working out for them?

      "Concerned Scientists" for the most part do not own multi-billion dollar companies that are trying to stay affloat. Maybe they should just shut their pie holes and get back to developing batteries that are cheap and efficient. What? They haven't done that yet? MUST BE A CONSPIRACY!
      • 5 Years Ago
      Even in the midst of world recession, bank failures, money and credit tightening, people losing jobs, business going bankrupt, people suffering all over the world, somehow ExxonMobil makes EVEN MORE money than they did previously.

      Now, let's here from the apologists about how the oil industry isn't manipulating global affairs, promoting wars, and so on.

      • 5 Years Ago
      How low can you sink?

      I left the UCS, my old 'green' organization, because the 'green' they were interested in, had nothing to do with the environment. I said the last 'concerned' or 'scientist' had already been forced out, or quit in disgust, but all had departed. Their remaining (janitorial) engineer, should please turn out the lights. The UCS certainly demonstrates that the are none there, anywhere.

      Even the best-fundraiser and PR flack spinner must have some content for their Press Releases and Funding appeals. This drivel doesn't even qualify for that wastepaper, or wrapping dead fish either.

      'Expensive cars cost more'...DUH...
      • 5 Years Ago
      Packages are common in new cars nowadays. Want a moonroof well you need the moon and tune Package, Power seats? that's in the electronics package, just want an ashtray well that's in the smoker's convenience package. Hybrids are just optional power trains on most cars and options come in silly packages.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I own a 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid with Navi and leather. (No other factory options available.) I paid $23,618+ tax, etc. I added splash guards, trunk liner and wheel locks for an add'l $380. I drive 40+ miles each way to work and wanted a comfortable car with excellent mileage. I got that in my Honda. Most people that do their homework know what cars cost. They either decide to buy, or they don't. I am happy with what I have. Technology costs money.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The bundling of content with technology is done for a variety of reasons, none of which is accurately addressed by UCS. And none involve the mythical collusion fo auto industry and oil industry.

      For the sake of disclosure and truth in advertising, I am a GM employee.

      Some of you, kstamler and carney in particular have pretty much nailed the primary reasons for bundling. Making a hybrid system an ala carte option at anything resembling the price needed to recover cost would simple ensure that nobody would ever buy a hybrid. So what some companies do is put the hybrid system in and then add other PROFITABLE and common options, except these options are loaded in MINUS the profit. This is to allow the customer to get more value for the vehicle they are buying. They got the hybrid PLUS the leather PLUS the cool stereo PLUS the highend HVAC. If you strip all that stuff out and only price for the hybrid system, the sticker price doesn't come down much.

      As for E85, both GM and Ford have produced millions of E85 capable vehicles and not charged a penny for the option or capability. There are some product lines where most if not all cars offered are E85. Chevy HHR is one that comes to mind. The issue is, there is not enough separation in price between a gallon of E10 gasoline and a gallon of E85 FlexFuel to make it a value proposition for the car owner.

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