Using a new section of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's FuelEconomy.gov website, we can now quantify the time it takes to pay off the higher price tag of most hybrids thanks to the lower refueling costs these vehicles provide. The page lets prospective customers look up 18 hybrids and show how many years it takes to save enough money to cover the extra cost. People can customize the search according to how many miles a year they drive, what their percentage of city vs. highway driving is and what gas prices are. Only hybrids apply, which means there are no cost-benefit analysis for the Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Volt possible on the site – at least, not yet.
Still, some of the results are illuminating. The best deals, of course are models like the Buick LaCrosse eAssist mild hybrid and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, both of which have the same MSRP as their gas powered counterparts. That means you're in the black as soon as you drive them off the lot. As for other models, SUV hybrids had an advantage over some of more the most fuel-efficient compacts because the fuel-economy gains relative to the gas-guzzling conventional SUVs were greater.
That means that a Cadillac Escalade Hybrid four-wheel-drive, when factoring in 15,000 miles a year of driving, a 55 percent/45 percent city/highway mix and $3.75 a gallon gas prices, takes just 2.1 years to pay off relative to a conventional Escalade. That compares to the 4.6 years it takes to pay off a Toyota Prius C compared to a Yaris, and the 5.3 years it takes to pay off a Honda Insight hybrid compared to a gas-powered Honda Fit.