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Brian Ross Headshot

Too Much Green in Being Green

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Before we can get to green cars, we have to take a lot of another kind of green out of them: their premium sticker price.

One of the most compelling reasons to adopt green automobiles is that better mileage and reduced fuel costs should put as much green back into your pocket as it does into the environment.

Yet from the Toyota Prius to the new GM SUV hybrids, there is such a huge premium tacked on to the cost of these vehicles that it makes them more hip social statement than a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly auto purchase.

I would love to drive a Mini, or a Prius or a Smart Car, but I have a big family. Unless Ringling Bros. teaches me how to pile them all in and out of a four passenger car, it is not an option.

So, like much of the world with kids and dogs, I need something bigger.

I would like to save money and do something good for the environment. I heard that GM would have a new large SUV hybrid in the Suburban/Yukon/Escalade class.

I could not find one. One dealer in my area had a showroom model, but sold it off before I could get there. It really would not matter if I did. If you could actually obtain one, as very few were being built, the premium over the normal vehicle price was a whopping $8,000.00.

Is it worth paying the extra $8,000?

The gasoline version of the GM SUV gets about 14-15 mpg, a fact that is rubbed in frequently in my area by gloating aging-post-hippie women driving around in their Priuses with the politically-correct SPCA shelter dog hanging out of the window.

I remind them, though, that I drive about 90% of the time with three to six people in the car, so my SUV in many ways is far more efficient per passenger, per mile than their Engergizer autos driven solo.

Still, I agree with them in that I would like to own a car that fits my needs but gets better mileage and is better for the environment. The Hybrid GM SUVs I'm told get 21-22 mpg in the city, about 8 mpg better than the gasoline powered version.

A GM gas powered SUV has a range of about 336 miles . The hybrid gets 504 miles out of the same tank. So you gain about 168 miles. That's a 12 gallon improvement. On $3.00/gallon gas, you would save about $36.00 a tank.

That is both the good news and the problem.

You will never recoup the $8,000 premium for buying the hybrid. Call it the First-on-the-Block fee or the I'm-Greener-Than-You fee, but hybrids, whether they come from Toyota or GM, are all priced in the oddity/specialty car category rather than as day-to-day vehicles. That premium does a lot to promote cars... gasoline cars.

If you drove the SUV 100,000 miles, you would fill it up approximately 297 times on the gas model, 198 times on the hybrid model. That you save 99 trips down to the corner station sounds good, but in dollar terms it only saves you about $3,564.00, or about 3.5% of what you would pay in your all-gas model of the same vehicle.

If there was not an additional sticker, that would be appreciated economy. With the premium, though, the money that you save on gas still is coming off the $8,000 that you paid up front to have "Hybrid" on the back gate. The $3,564.00 you knock off your $8,000 still leaves $4,436.00 in added cost.

Somehow, paying more to save the polar bears may wow the lady with her spunky animal-shelter companion and the hundred social justice bumper stickers littering the back of her Prius, but it does not thrill me. Don't get me wrong: I love those polar bears, If they were going to shake down a few Eskimos and come up with $8,000 for me, I would go green and get the hybrid. Otherwise, I had to look at the gasoline version of the SUV.

If you think that the scare of $4.85 gas was enough to get the attention of the American driving public. I doubt it. Gas has come down into the high $2s and low $3's again. The Hummers are back out on the street, and people who drove badly with their foot to the floor are still driving badly.

I drive a GM SUV now. It is great. It runs well, and it is far better built than the foreign cars I've been driving for the last few years. GM was dogged for years where it made some really awful cars. It makes quality vehicles now, but it will take months or years before there is a change in the buzz.

Beyond the short-term bailout of the Big-Three though, that may be the biggest obstacle to green cars from Detroit. Unless they can make both buying American and buying green into a purchase with high appeal, building green cars will not put companies like GM in the black.

Green cars need standard price stickers. Charge a premium, and the auto industry makes it cheaper to pump premium instead.

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