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What is really the ‘cheapest’ car to drive? (Hint: Not Prius c)
Jeff Cobb August 1, 2013
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Sorry there are no photos!
One sure-fire way to grab the mainstream Web surfer’s attention is a good-old sound-bite of a headline proclaiming a superlative and simplistic statement such as “cheapest and most expensive cars to drive.”
People love lists; they love competitions that clearly show winners and losers. And many are interested in cars, saving money, and they like easy, quick reads. So this form of infotainment highlighting the Toyota Prius c that costs “7.2 cents” per mile is sort of like handing a salty pretzel and large soda to a famished kid at a baseball game on a hot day.
And sure enough, at the moment media including NBC News Business blog, CNBC and Yahoo Finance are passing along without scrutiny the results of a gasbuddy.com survey released yesterday that states the Toyota Prius c tops the list over other hybrids leading to gas hogs that cost upwards of 35 cents per mile to drive.
To gasbuddy’s credit, the survey is very helpful, and in qualified terms does have some validity.
And to be sure, with us being HybridCars.com we’re not usually inclined to argue with a positive spotlight thrown on a hybrid car, assuming it’s accurate.
However we also like the truth and the only problem is the Prius c is not the hands down winner. Not by a long shot.
The Tesla Model S with 85-kwh battery costs 4.6 cents per mile to drive, says the U.S. EPA.
While 7.2 cents is cheap, not even mentioned in the survey are plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars – cars that do not need much if any gas and somehow overlooked by gasbuddy.com.
Any one of these can – under qualified terms – undercut 7.2 cents per mile for average daily driving needs by a large margin.
Gasbuddy.com’s press release says the survey assessing fuel costs was the result of 700 vehicles surveyed based on U.S. government fuel economy records so it’s basically a compilation of numbers:
Methodology of the Fuel Cost Per Mile Index: Gas price average based on the GasBuddy average price for regular grade gasoline during the month of July 2013. The Fuel Mileage based on combined city/highway data published on FuelEconomy.gov for 2013 vehicles.
The fact is, a whole other class of electrified cars is also rated by the same federal Web site as the screen shot shows exactly how the Prius c stacks up.
Click image to enlarge. (Note “cost to drive 25 miles.”).
On top of that, a brief informal survey today on GM-Volt.com found that some Volt drivers report actual costs as low as 2 cents per mile. These are tech-oriented people on GM-Volt.com, and George S. Bower who said his cost is 2 cents per mile is an engineer who occasionally writes tech articles for the site. He researched the Volt, thoroughly contemplated – and commented on it – before he bought one this year.
(Full disclosure, I am the editor for GM-Volt.com as well as HybridCars.com.)
They say the average “news” today is written for someone with the reading comprehension of an elementary school student. However, even a third-grade math student would know 2 cents per mile blows away 7.2 cents per mile, and other readers answered comparably with one stating he gets what amounts to 519 mpg.
Similar results could be stated for other plug-in electrified cars to one degree or another.
And granted, electricity is not free, so that also needs to be factored, but cost-per-mile on kilowatts is a lot cheaper than gas, even if paying higher than average electric rates.
At the average U.S. cost per kilowatt-hour, cost per mile for cars like the Volt, Nissan Leaf, and even the powerful Tesla Model S which out drag races a 560-horsepower BMW M5 to 100 mph is much less.
This is why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has come up with the formula for Miles Per Gallon Equivalent (MPGe). This info is on the same site that the gasbuddy.com article culled its statistics.
There are a few qualifiers to mention with the advantages held by plug-in cars however.
Once a Volt runs out of electricity – after about 30-50 miles on average, the government officially says 38 miles – it only gets 37 mpg. Here the Prius c does beat the Volt after a certain point, but you need to average in the extremely low cost of the first electric miles.
Other electrified cars similarly handicapped could be the all-electric Leaf, which on a full charge only goes 84 miles before running out of electricity according to the government, whereas the range of a Prius c is 428 miles, and it can be refilled in minutes at any gas pump.
If you are traveling across country, the Prius c beats an EV every time in terms of convenience and practicality. No question there.
So the Prius c does hold some advantages, which is why we give credit where credit is due up top saying the gasbuddy.com survey holds some validity.
Unfortunately, we also happen to believe the old adage that “you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.”
Passing on inaccurate and unequivocal statements like Prius c beats all is part of the problem as to why electric cars are taking so long to catch on.
Granted there are other reasons why they’ve been a tough sell, but it would help to at least mention their existence when aggregating results of inexpensive to operate cars from 700 vehicles documented by the U.S. EPA.
Electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are “cars” too, and it’s been shown the average U.S. daily trip can be handled by the admittedly limited range of the electrified alternatives.
True enough, plug-in electrified cars do tend to cost a bunch more than gas and regular hybrid counterparts. However they are also subsidized on the federal level, and in cases state and even local level, and manufacturer or dealer discounts also help make them more affordable.
The Nissan Leaf according to the EPA costs 3.9 cents per mile to drive.
Bottom line: The cost-benefit equation has been known to pencil out in their favor, especially for the more modestly priced ones under $40,000 MSRP.
At HybridCars.com, we love the Prius “family” and of course can appreciate the value The Prius c and other hybrids bring. For some people they are the best choice.
But please don’t believe they are the cheapest to operate based on their fuel economy. It’s not that simple any more.
For average daily driving under 90 miles per day more or less, that title has long since been taken by the new breed of electrified cars.
If you want a no-brainer headline, try this: The Cheapest Car To Operate Is Not A Hybrid, It’s Electric.
Posted in Culture & Market
Tagged as cheapest car to drive, Prius c
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