2008/08/19

Buy a Prius, kill the earth?

The cost of anything, when you break it down and break that down and so on, turns out to be the total cost of the energy required to make it.

To make a Prius you need about $28,000 of energy. For example, the metal parts have to be machined (coal for electricity for the mill/lath/cnc and everything it takes to support the worker including fertilizer, pesticides and so on used to grow and transport his or her food) but first the metal must be transported (diesel) and before that smelted (electricity or NG) and before that the ore is hauled (diesel) and mined (diesel, etc...) and so on. The metal doesn't cost anything, it's just sitting in the ground as ore waiting for us to take it. ALL of the costs to make that metal part are the energy required to transform it from the base ore.

The point I'm trying to make is that the COST of the car is the ENERGY used to make the car.

We expect cars to last about 5 years. On the bleeding edge, one tends to bleed. Hybrid cars are not well tested, although they do seem to be holding up well in fleets and as rentals. Let's give it the benifit of the doubt: This thing is going to cost you $28000 / 5 (years) / 52 (weeks per year) / 7 (days per week) or about $15.38 per day no matter how much you drive it. That is how much oil, diesel, coal, fertilizer, pesticide, etc... you will consume with this car each day without driving it at all. If you drive it 40 miles a day (which is about the national average) then you will be spending 38 cents per mile, NOT including the gas.

At 47 to the gallon and gas at $4 (for now) that is $3.40 more or 8 and a half cents per mile. Add some regular maintenance, you are looking at about 49 or 50 cents or per mile.

That is the bottom line: A Prius costs you, and mother earth, about 50 cents per mile.

A Hummer, by the way, costs about a buck a mile.

My $10,500 used 2001 Camry, purchased in 2007, given that it has one of the highest reliability ratings in the world, will very probably last 4 years MORE or 10 years total. It has a proven track record. The mfgr warranty for most of the car is actually 8 years, for pity sake.

$10,500 / 5 (years I plan to own it) / 52 / 7 = $5.77 per day. It gets 23MPG (25 estimated, 23 actual) and I drive about 50 miles per day so add 2.18 gallons of gas at, say $4 dollars per gallon. That is $8.72 per day in gasoline for a daily total of $14.49. I have almost $5 a day more than you to put towards maintenance and repairs.

But that is with my crazy commute. In terms of cost per mile, I pay less than 12 cents a mile to own the car and less than 18 cents a mile to drive it at $4/gal. So that is 30 cents a mile!

If gas stays at $4 I save 20 cents a mile over you!

38 - 12 is 26 cents a mile allowance I have for gas more than you do just because of the base price of our cars. Gas would have to be around $6 a gallon to justify my purchasing a Prius.

At $6 a gallon, there are a LOT of sources for fossil fuels that start making economic sense and so will become available. Oil shale extraction in West Virginia, algae bio fuel, etc...

Maybe they will come out with a lower cost version of some of these hybrids in the next few years and all of this will change, but for now, driving an old beater is the most ecological thing any of us can do.

And then there is the crash test ratings...

P.S.
www.truedelta.com is a fantastic resource for reliability information. You can compare Prius reliability with Hummers for example.

2 comments:

tbuchta said...

No question than keeping a used car that is reasonably fuel efficient is better than throwing it away to buy a Prius, or anything else for that matter.

However, if you need to buy, a used car does not have a warranty so life expectancy is a gamble. For the typical Prius purchaser, buying used is not even considered an option. Most will be folks whose choice, before there was a Prius available, would be something like a new Camry, a quality mid-size vehicle or even a higher end car like a Volvo, Audi etc. So the used vs Prius really isn’t a realistic comparison at all.

Now your comments on energy cost to produce a vehicle...not sure where you get the figure, but there are lots of data on the energy life cycle cost of vehicles. Typical values are 85 to 90 percent of the energy cost comes from operation of the vehicle as compare to materials and assembly. See the following link for a list of studies. http://www.pacinst.org/topics/integrity_of_science/case_studies/hummer_vs_prius.pdf

As for reliability and life expectancy assumptions, your truedelta link didn’t work, but by any objective measure the Prius is as good as a Camry at this point. Consider that Toyota guarantees the hybrid drive components of a Prius for 8 to 10 years or 100 to 150 thousand miles depending on where you live, Consumer Reports data confirms that Prius dependability is comparable to the best. So your assumptions, to be fair would have to be that the Prius would have the same life expectancy as the Camry.

In the end we all tend to justify our decisions. For me buying a Prius was the superior option over buying another new Camry. Similar size, quality, comfort etc, with added fuel and environmental benefits.

Chi said...

I'll echo tbuchta; I also own a hybrid, an Insight with 165,000 miles on it and now that it's 10 years old I can prove it'll last as long as a typical Camry. Assuming it's value is now zero, the cost including depreciation, gas, all maintenance, insurance and even the repair tools I've bought to use on it is only 11 cents a mile. Of course this particular Insight is still going strong with only minimal repairs so I'll continue driving it and by all measures it will keep being green. It's been a very green choice even using a somewhat questionable measure like cost per mile as a measure of greenness.