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A new low in TV advertising…

Bumper sticker observed recently on the back of a Hummer H2 –

“I’m not spoiled, my husband loves me.”

<This is a serious post>

Years ago I convinced (forced) my sister to buy a bike I no longer wanted. It was a Schwinn Hybrid bike, intended by the manufacturer to fill the spot between a road bike and a mountain bike. It was supposed to be perfect for a college student who needed to get to class. It could go off road if necessary. It could handle sidewalks and roads with ease. It was a Hybrid.

She hated it. And, in her defense, I’d hated the bike myself. It wasn’t tough enough to handle the intensity I expected from a bike. It bent (or broke) when I took it off-road. It was too slow when I was on-road. It was a geeky white color. It was called “Diamondback”…because snake names are tough, I guess. Although I did get a lot of good use out of it, I purchased a true mountain bike as soon as I was able (on credit at 18% interest). Despite my selfish reasons for suggesting she buy the bike, though, I did honestly think she’d really dig riding the Hybrid. She wasn’t the type that would try to tear up a bike. She wasn’t the type who tried to scare sidewalk pedestrians by speeding by them too closely. I figured the Hybrid was perfect for her. I was wrong, although her reasons for not liking the bike were different than mine. And, in the end, I think she drove over it with a car or threw it off a bridge or something.

Because of the poor experience with that bike, the word Hybrid has always carried a negative connotation for me. I saw a Hybrid as something that tried to fill two niches, but instead failed on both accounts. A Hybrid was a compromise. A Hybrid was weak. A Hybrid was not for me.

In the first 10 years of my illustrious career, my automotive manufacturing clients (of whose brands I have to drive) didn’t sell Hybrid vehicles. So, obviously, there was no thought given to them. A couple of years ago, though, these companies did start to bring Hybrid products to market. But, just like the Hybrid vehicles built and sold by the manufacturers we saw as competitors, these new products seemed to be VERY uncool and gimmicky…or they were just versions of existing products, with a much more expensive powertrain. So, I rationalized and justified not getting on the Hybrid bandwagon. “What good is a vehicle that gets great gas mileage”, I thought to myself, “if you get run over by a big truck while blissfully toodling along in the fast lane?” “Hybrids are ugly.” I said. “Who needs a Hybrid when we can just go bomb another country and take their gas?” I said. Or, “I’m stuck in this five year lease and am too far upside down to get something more practical.” Or, “I’m loyal to corn, let’s do E85 instead.” And even, “those Hybrid people are self-righteous wackos.”

A couple of things changed my thinking. And, I’m willing to admit I was wrong before. In no particular order…

First, I watched an “Inconvenient Truth” with Al Gore. It’s a powerful movie and he deserves every bit of kudos and praise he has gotten. Second, I changed jobs. I now work for an automotive client who made the sound business decision to be the leader in Hybrid technology and sales. Obviously, to be successful in my new position I needed to adopt their same mantra. Third, gas continues to get more and more expensive. Fourth, it has become increasingly evident that the type of democracy this country wants to create in the middle east would be one where a company like Exxon-Mobil would continue to report record profits…and that is not justification for even one soldier’s death (sorry for the rhetoric, but ‘gas=dead soldiers’ rings very true). Fifth, BetterHalf stated when I started the new job she wanted a Hybrid. Lastly, I realized the “eco-righteous” were suddenly cool…and I’m ALL about looking cool.

So, we got a Camry Hybrid.

With my “work from home position”, BetterHalf is now driving a lot more than I am…at least when I’m not traveling for work. So, she’ll drive the Camry Hybrid the majority of the time. But, even though it is technically her car, I am “digging” it too. But, of all of the reasons stated above for why my mind changed, the one hardest for me (and most people) to understand is the one having to do with gas prices and money saved. True, a Hybrid vehicle is a little bit more expensive. And, because of that fact most pontificators state that the increased cost for the vehicle is never going to be recovered by a reduction in fuel used. In other words, you spend the money either way…it’s a zero sum argument, they claim.

They are wrong.

The Ford Escape is what BetterHalf used to drive. It was a good family sized vehicle…not too big, not too small. She loved it. It was a good vehicle for her. And, it got 23 mpg on the highway!! So, it got a better mpg than all of the pickups and large SUVs out there. And, five years ago times were a little different. The decision to buy it back then was based on different world circumstances. Anyway, she put 80,000 miles on it. For the purpose of the argument let’s assume all 80K were highway miles. That means she used 3478 gallons of gas. At $2.00 a gallon estimated average, she spent $6956 on fuel in five years. (At $2.50 average she spent $8695…at $3 average, she spent $10,434…guess that extra dollar makes a big difference…and I’ll come back to this point.)

The Camry Hybrid gets 38 mpg highway. This is not a published or “theoretical” number. I know this number is factual and based on real world driving, because I have done it. I drove the car from Hattiesburg, Mississippi to Texas…575 miles of Interstate driving…with the cruise control set at 70 mph…and I watched the computer read-out the whole way. 38 mpg highway is what I got. Sure, I could have gotten worse mileage. I could have floored it every time some jamoke tried to box me in behind a semi in the right lane while they talked on their cell phone in the left lane blissfully ignorant of any other cars on the road. I could have driven 75 or 80 mph. But, I made good time all the while still driving responsibly.

So, at 38 mpg, those same 80,000 miles on the odometer will equal 2105 gallons of gas. At $2.00 per gallon that equates to $4210 in fuel costs over five years.

$6956 – $4210 = $2746

I can think of several things I could buy with $2746…or roughly an extra $45 a month.

But, the real wisdom in this argument comes with factoring in a higher present-day average cost for a gallon of gas. If the average was $2 five years ago, we owe it to ourselves to use $3.00 as an average going forward. We all know there’s no way the price will go down. The oil cartels…er, I mean, companies will continue to claim “refinery maintenance” or “futures fluctuation” as an excuse while they continue to collude and price fix. The Chinese will continue to require more and more oil to fuel their growing economy. And, Halliburton will continue to mystically lose millions of gallons of oil while “rebuilding” Iraq. So, anyway, let’s use $3.00 for the argument going forward. Those 2105 gallons of gas for those 80,000 highway miles will cost $6315 when using a $3 average. $6315 versus $6956, right?

What happened to the big savings? How can I justify the Hybrid?

That’s where the “pontificators” stop. That’s where they miss the argument.

Compare oranges to oranges. Compare $3 now to what $3 would have been in the past…(never minding inflationary adjustments of course…) $3 for the Escape miles and mpg would be $10,434, not $6956.

So, we’re comparing $6315 to $10,434…a difference of $4119 over five years…or about $68 a month.

Comparing the cost of gas at present…and thus the savings gained by driving a more fuel efficient vehicle…to a cost of gas in the past without including an “oranges to oranges” factor is missing the point of the comparison. The equation does change over time.

Looking at this another way, consider if we had gotten a new Escape (with the same highway mpg)…and paid $3/gallon while driving it for 80,000 miles, we’d pay again the same $10,434. The savings for the Hybrid when comparing present day to present day thus would also be the same…$4119 over five years.

Consider too, when doing all of these comparisons, that not every mile driven is a highway mile. And, consider that a regular motor gets worse gas mileage in city driving vs. highway while a Hybrid gets better mileage in the city than on the highway. For example, the Camry Hybrid is listed at 40 mpg in the city by the EPA. The Escape only gets 19 in the city. As a result, ALL of the comparisons used above were factored using the “best” number for the Escape and the “worst” number for the Hybrid. So, when real-world, day-to-day, bumper-to-bumper, gridlocked city driving is included in the calculations, know that the savings realized by the Hybrid will be about 20-25% better than the figures quoted above…that’s another $1000…

A rebuttal point to all of this could be, “so why not just get a car that gets high gas mileage? why do I need to get a Hybrid?” The answer is, “you’re right.” You could just get an econobox instead of the Hybrid and get great gas mileage that way as well. But, remember about tailpipe emissions. A Hybrid is considered a PZEV (Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle). When that electric motor is running, there aren’t any nasty things being put into the air. Unfortunately the best you can do with the econobox is ULEV (Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle). A Hybrid just happens to be a little bit better in that category.

So, what about the pontificators and their argument that the higher cost of the Hybrid motor would never be recouped through fuel savings? Well, a quick scan of the Toyota website shows the MSRP for a Camry Hybrid is around $26,900. And, the MSRP for a comparably equipped non-Hybrid Camry is around $22,900. That my friends is a difference of around $4000. Never one to let one example make the argument, I also took a quick scan of the Ford website to get prices for the Escape and Escape Hybrid. Without spending a lot of time on verifying whether the features for the two vehicles were exactly comparable, it looks as if the price differential is in the ballpark of $5000.

Therefore, it does appear that when buying the more expensive Hybrid, it’ll only take 5 years to recoup the investment…thus proving the pontificators wrong.  (Using a $3/gallon cost estimate…if gas continues to go up in price, the break-even point will occur even sooner.)

So, in the end, there are lots of reasons for making the switch. The money angle just happens to be the one where I spent the majority of my time in consideration. For you, maybe the missing oil in Iraq could be the more important fact…maybe the rise of Chinese industry is a powerful determination…or, maybe being one of the “eco-righteous” is appealing. Regardless, please give it your consideration.

Yes. I’m a convert. And, compared to some, I’m a very late convert. But, I’m a convert for pragmatic and rational reasons. And, frankly, I had career obstacles previously.

The Camry Hybrid is white, by the way. But, since I don’t intend on taking it off-road it should hold up just fine.

Maybe I’ll even call it Diamondback…

This is quite possibly the best and most honest car dealer commercial ever made…

Innovative in so many ways…

My all-time favourite Chrysler commercial.  Unfortunately, they just don’t make car spots like this anymore…

Funny ad from Aussie-land…it got pulled because ‘bugger’ is a bad word down there…

Bugger

Fun stuff…why can’t every car commercial be entertaining?