Good news - and bad - on electric cars
By Bruce V. Bigelow
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
After buying a 2007 Honda Civic hybrid-electric car in November, Kara Morales was a little disappointed. Her dark-gray sedan, which is “beautiful” and has “tons of gadgets,” has been getting only about 38 miles to the gallon.
“We were getting close to that with our old Civic,” said Morales, who teaches Spanish to seventh-and eighth-graders in the Poway school district.
But Morales had another reason to buy the new car. So when she called tax experts who fielded calls Jan. 27 on a hotline sponsored by The San Diego Union-Tribune, her big question was, “How do I claim the tax credit for a hybrid vehicle?”
Mark Adler, the certified public accountant who answered her call, at first seemed the ideal person to answer the question. He loves electric cars and even owns a Bradley GT, an all-electric sports car with gull-wing doors.
When gasoline prices hit $3 a gallon in April, people began looking more seriously at switching to hybrid-electric vehicles, Adler said.
HEVs are powered primarily by a conventional internal-combustion engine. But they also convert energy normally wasted during coasting and braking into electricity, which is stored in batteries until needed by the electric motor.
HEVs use battery power at low speeds, then switch to the gasoline engine at higher speeds. The system is more fuel-efficient, so that hybrid models can get improved gas mileage.
Sometimes, though, the difference is marginal.
The U.S. Department of Energy's Web site, www.fueleconomy.gov, shows that a conventional Honda Civic gets between 30 and 40 miles per gallon.
The same site shows fuel economy for the Honda Civic hybrid, based on government estimates, at about 50 mpg. But fueleconomy.gov also notes that average users report the number based on actual driving is closer to 43 mpg.
Nevertheless, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 offers consumers a great incentive to buy a hybrid by providing a tax credit for HEVs bought and placed into service after Jan. 1, 2006.