Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hybrid cars may not save San Mateo county money

April 27, 2011, 03:28 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

Buying hybrid vehicles for its motor fleet might help San Mateo County go green but isn’t necessarily saving it any, according to the civil grand jury which is urging the Board of Supervisors to commission a detailed study of the costs.

In a report released yesterday, the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury concluded that the county might be better off sticking with non-hybrid cars because their savings were overestimated. The jury found there are conventionally powered compact and intermediate sized sedans that meet the “green” standards of the state and Environmental Protection Agency. When coupled with the increased depreciation value of hybrid vehicles, the county may be offsetting any fuel consumption savings from choosing that type, the jury found.

The county began buying hybrids in part based on a 2003 study on the Public Works Fleet Management Division which concluded they would consume less fuel, produce lower emissions and generate “substantial” savings. Specifically, the study by the Controller’s Office held that over the estimated seven-year life span of the hybrid, the county saved $1,764 over a comparable non-hybrid due to fuel and maintenance costs.

Fleet vehicles are replaced at 100,000 miles or seven years of service for small cars and 100,000 or 10 years for larger vehicles, whichever comes first.

Since 2002, the Public Works Department has bought 200 compact sedans — either a Toyota Prius or Honda Civic — and seven Ford Escape SUVs with a hybrid power train.

Since the study, though, the jury said there is substantially more information on hybrids’ trade-in values and depreciation costs compared to traditional vehicles. Some non-hybrids also meet California’s green designation and EPA 35-mpg estimate, such as the Chevrolet Cobalt, Cruze and Malibu; the Honda Civic, Accord and Fit; the Ford Fusion, Focus and Fiesta and the Toyota Camry, Corolla and Yaris.

The 2011 base price of a hybrid Toyota Prius is $7,280 more than a comparable non-hybrid Toyota Corolla and the hybrid Honda Civic costs $5,395 more than the non-hybrid counterpart. Because the county does not pay income taxes, it does not qualify for federal tax credits.

Depreciation values also showed a wide difference, according to the jury’s research. The hybrid depreciation for 2003 models with mileage up to 99,000 range from $3,970 to $4,465 more than a conventional powered vehicle, according to the Kelly Blue Book for January through March of 2011. The 2003 report may have overestimated the trade-in value by 23 percent, the jury found.

The jury, however, did not launch its own detailed and technical study of the operational costs which is what it believes the Board of Supervisors should undertake. Board President Carole Groom could not be reached for comment on whether the Board of Supervisors may agree and commission such a study.

The jury also recommends the county develop a new policy for retiring vehicles based on mileage rather than the 100,000 miles or seven-year maximum currently used.

Grand jury reports carry no legal weight but recipients must respond in writing within 90 days.

The full report is available at

Michelle Durand can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

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