New York Times: How Long to Recoup Hybrid/SFE Trim Level Costs?

Many of you are have seen hybrid versions of cars, or even hybrid-specific models like the Toyota Prius, which combine electric motors with gas engines to get huge gains in fuel economy.  Now there’s a new player in the fuel economy wars: the SFE, or Super Fuel Economy.  It’s a Ford acronym, but I’ll be using it to describe any non-hybrid which uses aerodynamic modifications, special transmission or tires to eke out a few extra MPGs.  The New York Times even posted a comparison on their site, so continue reading for that and my thoughts on it.

While hybrid models are seemingly gaining in popularity – I see several dozen Toyota Priuses each day, the cost of the added hybrid drivetrain can keep potential buyers away.  On the flip side, using low rolling resistance tires and special transmission gearing, in conjunction with electronically-controlled grille flaps and other aerodynamic modifications can lead to increased fuel economy without the added weight and complexities.

To this end, several manufacturers are coming out with (or have already released) special trim levels of some of their most fuel-efficient models.  Ford calls it the SFE package on its Focus and Fiesta, while Chevrolet calls it the “Eco” trim level, not to be confused with Ford’s EcoBoost engine technology.

On average, the SFE/Eco trim packages cost about $750, and net you from .5 to 3 MPGs, depending on the vehicle.  Not quite the big savings if you shelled out $1,000 for the trim package and only net 1 MPG.  On the hybrid side of things, most hybrids cost several thousand dollars more than their gasoline-only brethren.  The Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is the closest, with less than $1,000 difference between the two.

Having tabulated all of the data for each of the most mainstream fuel-efficient vehicles, the New York Times has created a graphic displaying the time it will take, assuming the owner drives 15,000 miles per year.  I take exception to them comparing the Toyota Camry to the Toyota Prius, since the two cars are very different in size, even if the Prius’ hatchback leads to a more comparable overall usable space.

Other than that, here it is (click on image to view on NYT’s web site):

NYT Image

Not too shabby results for my own 2011 Ford F-150, but definitely not worth it for the Ford Fiesta and Honda Civic buyers out there.  Note that the Chevrolet Cruze appears twice – the first time against its platform-mate Volt, and the second against its non-Eco self.  If you’re looking for the best payoff and don’t mind a little extra maintenance, pick up a Volkswagen Jetta TDI.  The most interesting vehicles to note here are the Hyundai Sonata and its sister car, the Kia Optima.  The aggressive pricing has led to a <6 yr payoff, and the average car buyer is keeping their car 6-8 years, so it’s a win-win for both the buyer and manufacturer.

There’s another entrant, which should show up in a future comparison, is the 2013 RAM 1500 pickup truck.  It will be using electronically-controlled grille slats and a few other techno-bits to try and best the Ford F-150, which is the current reigning fuel economy truck champ, at 17/23 for its 2WD base 3.7-liter V6 truck.

Thanks to John O. for the tip!

by John Suit

Image Source: New York Times; Source: New York Times

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