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  March 2003 Features:
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The Planet
A Hybrid High
By Barbara Winterson
Maine Chapter Vice Chair

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Well, I did it! I bought myself a lean, green, driving machine-a 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid. Now, you might ask, why didn't I do it before? The short answer is that I am frugal, tight - well, to be perfectly honest - cheap. The problem with hybrids is that even with tax incentives and increased fuel economy they are more expensive than their non-hybrid equivalents.

hybrid cars
Not a Toaster: Barbara Winterson, left, was thrilled to discover that her new Honda Civic Hybrid had more pep than her old gasoline-powered Honda Civic and did not need to be plugged in like a toaster.

The 2003 Civic Hybrid manufacturer's suggested retail price is about $20,000. The regular gasoline-powered 2003 Civic LX is about $15,000. The body and options on these two vehicles are nearly identical.

The tax incentives for the hybrid included a Maine sales tax rebate, wherein I was taxed on the cost of the gasoline-powered equivalent (i.e. $15,000). The federal government also allowed me to subtract $2,000 from my gross income on my taxes (this drops to $1,500 for 2003). Between the two, I saved about $1,000.

As for gas economy, the gasoline Civic averages 35 miles per gallon and the Civic Hybrid averages 48. If I assume that the car will be driven 150,000 miles (yes, I tend to drive my cars until they are depressingly decrepit), and that gasoline will continue to cost about $1.50 per gallon, I will save about $1,700 during the lifetime of the car. So altogether I will still be out $2,300-and that's not taking into consideration insurance and excise taxes. Bummer!

But wow! What a great car! It drives just like a "real" car. (It is not plugged in like a toaster). The electric motor gives it more pep than my old Honda Civic, which had about as much get-up-and-go as a basset hound after a long nap. It has these cool, blue indicator lights showing average miles per gallon, miles per gallon in the moment, when the battery is being charged, and when the battery is powering the car.

And it's a great conversation piece. At the annual holiday family gathering, there was a line of folks waiting to take a look at it. One family member was considering a hybrid as his next car.

And finally, knowing that I am doing my part to prevent global warming, makes me feel - well - lighter than air.

All in all, it's ample compensation for the extra $2,300, which, over ten years, amounts to only $5 per week!

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