Lost in all the media noise about the drop-off in May sales, the new General Motors incentive/pricing program and North American production cuts by GM and Ford were a couple of shocking developments about gasoline-electric hybrids.
1. NHTSA is investigating a stalling problem in 2004-05 Toyota Prius models that could lead to a safety recall of 75,000 vehicles.
2. An Edmunds.com analysis shows it's more expensive to own and operate hybrids, despite their fuel economy.
What do you think the odds are that either of those disclosures will slow demand for hybrids?
In the Prius preliminary investigation, the Feds say they have received 33 reports of cars stalling in traffic at between 35 and 65 mph and about half of those wouldn't restart.
Last month, Toyota's Jim Press acknowledged the problem and said the company was investigating what it considered a likely software issue. If that's the case, it ought to be easy to fix without too much damage to the vehicle's reputation, just as long as no one is killed or seriously injured by some distracted driver who doesn't see them waving for help.
At Edmunds.com, the news was more pervasive. The analysis compared the cost of owning several popular hybrid models with owning similar non-hybrid models, including purchase price, federal tax credit, routine maintenance and fuel consumption.
For example, according to Edmunds.com, in the first five years of ownership, it's:
So what's the point?
If consumers are flocking to hybrids because they think they'll save a couple of bucks when the price of gasoline goes up, they're deluding themselves.
Edmunds.com figures gasoline would have to cost $5.60 a gallon for the Escape Hybrid owner to break even and gasoline would need to hit a whopping $10.10 a gallon for the guy who bought a Prius rather than a Corolla to get right side up.
But here's what Edmunds.com missed: Many people who buy hybrids don't care about the price of gasoline. They buy a hybrid because it suits their self-image. They want to consume less fossil fuel (We can discuss the fallacy of hybrid fuel economy vs. diesels another day), and they feel as if they're doing something to make the world a little better.
And they want others to know they care.
Let's face it; some people just get a charge out of hybrids.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at