Are Hybrid Cars Worth It?

Hybrid cars are an innovation that undoubtedly takes automotive technology to the next level. Hybrid cars are, put simply - cars are are powered by both an electric motor and a traditional gasoline engine. The two systems work directly with each other to power the drive wheels.

Arguably the most well-known hybrid car is the, yes you guessed it right - Toyota Prius. The Prius was the first mass market hybrid vehicle that was first introduced in 1997. 

The idea behind hybrids is that it can help to reduce one of the biggest expense of car ownership - fuel costs. 

The hybrid car’s electric motor gets its power from a battery pack that usually sits in in the boot behind the rear seats or in the floor pan of the car to lower the center of gravity, which can help to improve handling.

The electric motor will be utilised under certain driving conditions, such as when driving below a certain speed or sitting at idle. The gasoline engine remains off and thus burns zero fuel. 

When the battery level gets to a certain depletion level or if heavy throttle loads are required, the gasoline motor automatically kicks in to assist both in recharging the battery and propelling the wheels.

Ok, that’s a very quick summary of how hybrids work. Now - if you are looking to buy a hybrid car, one of the strongest reasons you have to justify your purchase would be the fuel cost savings, as hybrid cars get excellent fuel economy (the Toyota Prius gets 27km/litre!). While you are saving on fuel, does that really mean you are spending less money overall ?

The reality is that in some cases, hybrid cars end up costing you more money than buying a gasoline powered car.. It is important not to only focus on the fuel cost savings as a reason for buying a hybrid car.

First - let’s look at purchase price. Hybrid cars are more expensive as compared to the model on which it was based on. For example, a BMW 5 Series 530i Luxury costs $271,888, but the same BMW 5 Series 530e Hybrid Model costs $283,888 - a difference of $12,000. 

Of course, depending on the hybrid car you are considering, the price difference could be smaller. 

Secondly is the battery replacement - in a hybrid, the battery is integral to the car’s drivetrain. So if the battery fails, then the car won't work. While the batteries are not known to fail often ( nothing is certain and the battery replacement can be very expensive. As an example, Singapore’s authorised Toyota dealer Borneo Motors charges $5,200 to replace a Prius hybrid battery. In a traditional gasoline powered car, you don’t have to worry about such an expensive battery replacement. 

However, the hybrid cars do help you save some money : 

Govt Rebates 

The Vehicular Emissions Scheme (VES) takes into consideration a vehicle's emissions to encourage consumers to shift to low emission models. Cars which fall under band A1 can receive up to $20,000 rebate, with band A2 cars getting $10,000 respectively. However, very few cars (if any) qualify for these rebates. 

Fuel Costs

Hybrids can rely on just battery power alone under certain driving conditions - which means it does not use any fuel. They also have far superior fuel economy, which means you make lesser trips to the petrol station. For those who clock more than 20,000 km per year, buying a hybrid could make economical sense. But for the average Singapore driver who only clocks about 16,700 km per year. (data from 2016)

So, unless your annual mileage is more than 20,000km, buying a Hybrid may not make economical sense. Only those who clock high mileages will see fuel savings, which will offset the significantly higher price tag.