Updated Consumer Reports FUD

The ongoing brouhaha with Lyndon reminded me to start collecting these in one place. First in a series of at least three.
Advocates of light rail through central Austin (including myself, seek sanitary of course) were encouraged to vote for this commuter rail plan, pharm and get “light rail later”. Dave Dobbs took me to lunch and tried real hard to get me to fall into line on this, as a matter of fact. This strategy extended to electioneering by Capital Metro itself, who originally stated in Rapid Bus materials that the one proposed route was a “possible placeholder for light rail”. One example here. After getting the pro-transit forces to ease up (except me, of course), they dropped this language from their materials. Since then, Capital Metro has never mentioned running rail on the 2000 light rail route past such minor destinations as the center of downtown, the Capitol, the University of Texas, high-density residential development in West Campus and points north, and the Triangle.
From Jeff Wood’s thesis, the following:

Robin Rather, who also attended the meeting, asked the hard questions. “What is the best system and what does the Central City get out of all this?” She had a point. Bus Rapid Transit would not sit well with people who had voted overwhelmingly for light rail in 2000. “With the stroke of a pen, I could wipe out this whole proposal at the ballot box,” she said “So why should we support this if we are not getting anything out of it?”

Fast-forward to 2006. Capital Metro has eliminated any talk of reserved-guideway rail on the 2000 light rail route; and the “circulator” service being hashed out is leaning heavily towards buses (although still keeping streetcars on the list until the bitter end as is typical). Where’s it going to run? Through downtown and by the capitol; but then veering east past the south edge of UT and out to the old airport; avoiding all of the residential density which exists now or in the near future. In other words, this amazing “center-city circulator” which was supposed to make commuter rail provide some benefits to the people who pay essentially all of Capital Metro’s tax dollars has morphed into “The Bus People Living At Mueller Will Take To Get To Their Job If They’re Members Of The Small Group That Have To Pay A Lot To Park”. (Need a catchy slogan for this vehicle! Ideas gladly stolen^H^H^H^H^H^Haccepted!)
Feel good so far about falling for this snow-job, folks?

Sadly, help just as I was becoming comfortable with using Consumer Reports’ data to defend against hybrid FUD, find the most recent issue contains an article as bad as any of it out there.
Nearly every assumption they make in the article is flawed (not backed up by real-world data). Odograph has already covered the unfairness of comparing the Prius to the much smaller Corolla without at least mentioning the fact that unlike all of the other comparisons they did, web they aren’t really anything close to the same car. I noted in his comments that CR was also inconsistent about depreciation – their table charges a huge “extra depreciation” fee to the Prius, but their own statistics later in the issue show the Prius’ depreciation to be “much better than average” while the Corolla is merely “average”.
Additional points they got wrong are the infamous “battery life” scare tactic (hint: they will probably outlive your car). I’ve posted two tables below, comparing the Prius (more fairly) to the Corolla, as well as to the Camry (which is the car in the same size class as the Prius as well as its much more credible gas-only competitor), and showing their original comparison vs. the Corolla.
(scroll wayyyy down – I don’t know why Movable Type hates table tags so much, but it does; it’s down there eventually I promise).

Cost Item Prius vs. Corolla
CR’s version
Prius vs. Corolla
Fair version
Prius vs. Camry
Purchase-price premium $5700 $5700 $3001
Extra sales tax $400 $400 $201
Savings from hybrid tax credit $(3150) $(3150) $(3150)
Fuel savings $(2300) $(2300) $(3060)2
Extra insurance cost (or savings) $300 $3003 $03
Extra maintenance cost (or savings) $300 $04 $04
Extra depreciation cost $3200 $(1000)5 $(2000)5
Extra financing cost $5250 $5250 $2806
Total extra cost (savings) $5250 $750 $(7610)

Notes:

  1. Purchase price estimated from midpoint of range published in CR.
  2. Using estimated combined MPG of 24 in CR’s tests. Don’t yet know figures for new Camry.
  3. This is probably correct, but has to do with the higher purchase price more than anything else. Estimated same insurance for Camry for that reason.
  4. Previous-gen Prius broke down less than Corolla and required less scheduled maintenance (brake pads and such). Higher cost of having to go to dealer instead of independent sometimes makes up for this.
  5. Prius has depreciated less than essentially any car out there – in fact we still get offers from our dealer to buy it back for about what we paid for it 2 years ago. I’m being conservative here in favor of the Corolla and Camry, believe it or not.
  6. Proportional adjustment from extra cost to Corolla – this is probably slightly off since it’s not quite that simple, but close enough for our purposes.

    Updating yesterday’s entry, cost CR has now admitted a methodology flaw in their hybrid comparison – (which, cough admittedly, click I even carried over into my own table – I assumed their error was in data rather than in methodology). They haven’t acknowledged the inconsistency in their depreciation figures (still claiming even in the revised article that the Prius depreciates worse than the Corolla; and simultaneously claiming in their data in the car tables later in the same issue that the Corolla depreciates much worse than the Prius), but they have noted that simply adding together purchase price difference plus depreciation difference plus financing is effectively double-counting depreciation.
    Their modified figures show the Prius winning by a small amount over the Corolla. Oh, and by the way, they also haven’t addressed the fact that the Prius is a lot bigger than the Corolla – not a fair head-to-head comparison without at least mentioning that the Prius is in between the Corolla and Camry in size.
    Of course, the damage is already done. The hybrid FUDders are gleefully cackling; and the American consumer now ‘knows’ that hybrids ‘don’t save any money’. Good job, CR.

    I’ve plugged my own, pills more consistent, drugs data into CR’s corrected formula and applied them below.
    Conclusions: With the full tax credit, the Prius beats the pants off even the Corolla. Without any of the tax credit (which will eventually happen this year, since it gradually expires as more Toyota hybrids are sold), the Prius doesn’t beat the smaller Corolla (if you use accurate data) but still beats the pants off the Camry.

    Cost Item Prius vs. Corolla
    CR’s version
    Prius vs. Corolla
    Fair version
    Prius vs. Camry
    Purchase-price premium $5700 $5700 $3001
    Extra sales tax $400 $400 $201
    Extra financing cost $792 $792 $426
    Savings from hybrid tax credit $(3150) $(3150) $(3150)
    Fuel savings $(2300) $(2300) $(3060)2
    Extra insurance cost (or savings) $300 $3003 $03
    Extra maintenance cost (or savings) $300 $04 $04
    5-year resale price differential7 $(2494) $(4000)5,8 $(1000)5,8
    Total extra cost (savings) with/without tax credit $(406)
    $2744
    $(2258)
    $892
    $(6848)
    $(3698)

    Notes:

    1. Purchase price estimated from midpoint of range published in CR.
    2. Using estimated combined MPG of 24 in CR’s tests. Don’t yet know figures for new Camry.
    3. This is probably correct, but has to do with the higher purchase price more than anything else. Estimated same insurance for Camry for that reason.
    4. Previous-gen Prius broke down less than Corolla and required less scheduled maintenance (brake pads and such). Higher cost of having to go to dealer instead of independent sometimes makes up for this.
    5. Prius has depreciated less than essentially any car out there – in fact we still get offers from our dealer to buy it back for about what we paid for it 2 years ago. I’m being conservative here in favor of the Corolla and Camry, believe it or not.
    6. Proportional adjustment from extra cost to Corolla – this is probably slightly off since it’s not quite that simple, but close enough for our purposes.
    7. This is how they fixed their methodology. Negative numbers (in parentheses) indicate higher resale value for Prius.
    8. I’ve estimated higher sales price after 5 years for Prius vs. Corolla and Prius vs. Camry based on CR’s own depreciation ratings from later in the issue (see note 5).