2010 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid – Click above for high-res image gallery

Despite its 50-mile-per-gallon rating, the Toyota Prius is apparently not the best choice of hybrid vehicles if you are looking to recover, through fuel savings, the extra money you spent adding a battery and electric motor to your car. Amazingly, that honor falls to the Mercedes-Benz S400 hybrid. How is it that an $88,000 car with a 15 kilowatt mild-hybrid system is a better value than the $22-30,000 Prius?

As is so often the case, the answer depends on the question you ask. The question asked by the British Columbia Automobile Association (BCAA) comes down to a comparison of how much extra you pay for a hybrid over a conventional equivalent compared to how you save in fuel over five years of ownership. The ace in the hole for the Mercedes is the fact that it is – by several thousand dollars – the cheapest S-Class currently offered in North America, meaning that you "save" money before you even drive it off the lot. It's currently the only hybrid offered that is less expensive than its nearest non-hybrid equivalent. BCAA estimates that the S400 will save the owner about $5,000 in reduced fuel and purchase costs over five years. Of course, you'll pay way more up front for the Mercedes and many hybrid buyers don't buy a green car just for the payback, but rather to make a statement about the environment. The BCAA release doesn't indicate what car the Prius was compared to, but we would guess a base Camry would be the closest in size and similar in price.

Photos Copyright ©2010 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

[Source: British Columbia Automobile Association via Green Car Reports]

2010 Annual Hybrid Cost Analysis
July 21, 2010

Twelve years after Honda introduced the first gas-electric hybrid vehicle into the mass North American market, car buyers have yet to see the kinds of price reductions that were predicted to occur as hybrids gained popularity and market share. Even with technological advancements, and increased sales and model selection, consumers continue to pay a premium to purchase a hybrid. And, with the introduction of the HST and the corresponding elimination of the provincial sales tax rebate on hybrid vehicles, most hybrid models continue to cost more to own and operate than their conventional gas-powered counterparts.

According to British Columbia Automobile Association's (BCAA) annual Hybrid Cost and Savings analysis conducted in July, several models come close to their conventional cousins when costs are compared over five years, but only one – the $105,000 Mercedes S400 Hybrid sedan-is less expensive to own and operate compared to its conventional equivalent.

BCAA's study placed 16 hybrid models available in B.C. and their conventional equivalents side-by-side and compared the purchase, financing and fuel costs over a five year period. The analysis assumes a constant gas price of $1.17 per litre and a driving distance of 20,000 kms a year. The main differences between the 2010 and 2009 cost studies are the elimination of the provincial sales tax rebate and the provincial luxury vehicle tax, and the price of gas, which last year was $1.04 per litre. New models this year are the Lexus HS 250h and Mercedes-Benz S400.
BCAA's Hybrid Cost Analysis revealed the following:

* The $105,000 Mercedes S400 Hybrid sedan is the only model less expensive to own and operate compared to its corresponding conventional model. The S400 is approximately $5,000 less to own and operate than the closest conventional model, the Mercedes S450.
* The hybrids that come closest in cost to their conventional counterparts in purchase and operating costs are all the Toyota models (Prius, Camry and Highlander Hybrid), all the Honda models (Insight and Civic Hybrid) and the Lexus HS250h.
* Over a five year period, the hybrids that are the least costly to own and operate are the Honda Insight ($38,326), Toyota Prius ($40,324), and Honda Civic Hybrid ($42,664).
* Hybrids with the greatest greenhouse gas (GHG) emission advantage over their gas-powered equivalents are:
Toyota Prius (55% fewer GHG emissions)
Ford Fusion Hybrid (38% fewer GHG emissions)
Honda Civic Hybrid (37% fewer GHG emissions)
* The hybrids with the lowest overall GHG emissions (kg of carbon per year) are:
Toyota Prius (1748 kg/yr)
Honda Civic Hybrid (2070 kg/yr)
Honda Insight (2162 kg/yr)
Ford Fusion Hybrid (2352 kg/yr)

"With the elimination first of the federal tax incentive and now the provincial tax rebate, it appears it's still going to be a while before hybrids offer a cost advantage over standard vehicles," says Trace Acres, BCAA's director of corporate communications and government relations. "What we are seeing however, is manufacturers starting to offer price breaks for things like cash sales, so an environmentally conscious consumer may still be able to make a hybrid purchase work financially by shopping around."

When considering a switch to a more environmentally-friendly vehicle, Acres encourages drivers to examine emission ratings as well as sticker prices to ensure the hybrid they choose will provide them with the environment savings they expect.

"BCAA's research shows that cost is not typically the main motivator for someone looking to purchase a hybrid," explains Acres. "We believe that many consumers are willing to pay a bit more to go 'hybrid' if it will reduce their carbon footprint

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