The recent run-up in fuel prices led to a surge in demand for hybrids like the Toyota Prius, which has been selling at record levels. Yet sales of gas-electric vehicles still lag well behind what proponents keep forecasting, accounting for barely 3% of the overall U.S. new vehicle market.
Why? Well, that’s a matter of some debate, but for many potential buyers the issue is one of cost. While there are a few models that carry no premium for their advanced powertrains – such as the Lincoln MKZ – most hybrids are more expensive than comparable models using gas power alone. In some cases, the premium can be substantial, $5,000 or more.
And so, while those hybrids might quickly save you money on gas, it can take years to break even on your up-front investment – what industry types call the “payback period.”
Or will it? A new calculator created by the National Transportation Research Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is designed to make it easy to calculate your fuel savings – and determine the payback period.