Although the Volt and Leaf have stratospheric sticker prices, both have pretty low ownership costs.

By Jessica L. Anderson, Associate Editor, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance

% Green Living Guru%Electric Care Expert Sales of hybrid and electric cars jumped nearly 40% in the first quarter of the year. The primary reason: soaring gas prices. More than one-third of consumers now say fuel economy is the most important factor in their next vehicle purchase, according to a recent study by Maritz Research, a market-research firm.

Setting aside their environmental cred, are hybrids, diesels and electric vehicles actually wallet-friendly? Prices on hybrids run about $3,300 higher on average than stickers on their gas-engine siblings. The diesel difference is about $2,800 more. And the two EVs on the market — the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf — are each more than $18,000 pricier than their closest gas-engine match. But the long-term ownership costs are the real measure of whether buying green is worth it.

Running the numbers. 


Using five-year ownership costs from Vincentric, an automotive data firm, we compared 2011 hybrid, diesel and electric vehicles with their closest gasoline-engine counterparts. In most cases, that’s the same model with a different powertrain; when a hybrid (like the Prius) had no counterpart, we chose the closest match from the carmaker’s lineup.


The numbers assume you drive 15,000 miles a year and that regular gasoline costs $3.64 a gallon, premium is $3.91, and diesel is $3.97 — the average prices nationwide in early summer — with a 3.5% annual increase for each fuel. In addition to fuel costs, depreciation, maintenance and repairs, the math also includes finance costs for a five-year loan after a 15% down payment, insurance and


% Green Living Guru%Electric Care Expert
Nissan Leaf

The Volt and Leaf are both eligible for the $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles, and that, too, is factored in.

Pump prices have a lot to do with making green cars a good. Two years ago, when gas prices were hovering close to $2 a gallon, few hybrids and diesels earned back their premium price with savings at the pump. But with gas prices now closer to $4, more buyers will save green by buying green.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that although the Volt and Leaf have stratospheric sticker prices — nearly double those of the gas-engine Chevrolet Cruze LTZ and Nissan Versa S hatchback — both have pretty low five-year ownership costs. The Volt’s costs come within $1,600 of the Cruze’s and the Leaf is only $800 more than the Versa over five years. (Run your own comparisons of these models and many more.)


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