February 2007 Looking Ahead

In February, the EPA announced its revised fuel economy testing procedures. Effective beginning in the 2008 model year, the revised tests include two additional evaluations that assess vehicle performance while driving at higher speeds and while using air conditioning. The new procedures will result in lower mileage ratings for all vehicles, including hybrids. The Toyota Prius, for example, will see its combined fuel economy rating drop from 55 MPG to 46 MPG, a reduction of 16%. Ratings of other hybrids, such as the Camry Hybrid, fall as well, but by a slightly smaller percentage (13%).

Will potential hybrid buyers be turned off by lower EPA ratings? It remains to be seen. While roughly 80% of U.S. households know something about hybrids, only a small number of them have actually shopped for one. That means a lot of people haven’t paid much attention to the fuel economy ratings for a specific hybrid model in a given year. If these consumers shop for hybrids in the future, they may never know that the vehicles had higher mileage ratings in the past. So while the changes to EPA ratings may be a big deal to those of us who watch hybrids closely, many consumers may never notice.

There is some concern, however, about the symbolic value of high MPG. Many consumers don’t think in terms of percentage changes in fuel economy—they think just about the MPG number. Reducing the Prius’ MPG from 55 to 46 seems like a more drastic change than reducing the average car’s MPG from 25 to 21. In fact, both represent a change of about 16%. So while the new ratings only slightly alter the fuel efficiency advantage of hybrid models relative to conventional vehicles, they disproportionately lop off more miles per gallon from hybrid models. For some buyers, this could rub some of the sheen off the hybrid halo.

  • duke

    Last May we drove our new (almost) Prius to Florida for a graduation..
    We pushed it for 870 miles in one day. Fuel use was 50 MPG with AC on. Return was over two days and at 65 MPH where allowed. Fuel use was 55 MPG. Ten percent better.

    Next chapter was a recently completed trip to Sarasota for a wedding. I bit further. Same fuel economy as the second half of first trip. So much for tests that have nothing to do with road experience. .

    Among other things, the speed control is the best we have ever used. It is adjustable in 1 mph steps either directions from the set point.

    Around town we get almost 40 MPG in cold weather and high 40’s in warmer weather.

    It is almost worth the cost of the car to realize that we burn zero fuel starting when the brakes are applied. AC continues from main battery. All electric.
    Startup is on the electric motor. Depending on how hard the “go” pedal is pressed, the engine might not start below 25 MPH.

    Really neat. :) :)

  • Jerry B in Phoenix

    We love our 07 Prius and have had it for
    3 months now going over 5000 miles so far. We try to drive conservative for better gas milage and routinely got 52 to
    55 mpg the first couple of months with a combination of 20% city and 80% highway driving. With more experience and practice we now get 58.5 to 59.5 mpg!!!
    We have talked with other Prius drivers who 45 to 50 mpg averages. By slowing down,looking ahead, and driving more conservatively, they could greatly improve their averages.
    — Jerry B PHX AZ

  • Bob Thomas

    Bought an ’03 Honda Civic Hybrid in June of ’06. Gas mileage was 49.9 over all average then. After learning how to drive sensibly(easy on the gas, coasting down long hills & keeping off unneeded accessories), I’m getting 52.2 mpg now. This car gives everything I ever wanted in a car. Tough as nails, too! All my future vahicles will be hybrids!