Thursday, October 27, 2011

U energy economist develops tool to help car-shoppers compare vehicles

University of Minnesota Extension energy economist Doug Tiffany has developed a new tool to help car-shopping consumers answer the common question, "Should I buy an alternative vehicle?"

Accessible online, the free tool helps consumers more easily navigate the differences in the costs of ownership and operation and greenhouse gas emissions among four car types: conventional, hybrid, electric and extended range electric vehicles. By entering information for each type of vehicle they are considering, shoppers can test various scenarios, such as higher gasoline prices and miles driven per year.

"It's not just about price, personal taste, miles per gallon, interior space and other physical features," said Tiffany. "The wide availability of alternative vehicles—along with consumer interest in lessening one's environmental impact—can complicate the car purchase decision even further."

The tool is meant to help consumers better analyze the factors that go into their purchase decision. It accurately evaluates newer models such as the Nissan Leaf (electric) and Chevy Volt (extended range electric), conventional cars and common hybrids, like the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic and others.

Key input factors include vehicle price, miles per gallon or miles per kilowatt hour performance, the expectation of fuel prices for the life of the car, and the number of miles per year the consumer expects to drive.

Tiffany said he was first inspired to create the tool in 2009, when gasoline prices were lower, but the sting from gas prices during the summer of 2008, as high as $4 per gallon in many areas, lingered.

"I'm happy to help people balance their personal and altruistic goal of greenhouse gas emissions reductions and petroleum conservation within the reality of their own lives and budgets," he said. "I hope people who use the tool learn that the ownership costs of vehicles are often more important than the operational costs (primarily gasoline), unless you drive enough miles per year."

For more information on the alternative vehicle tool, including a tutorial video and information on interpreting results, see  

University of Minnesota Extension is a 100-year-old partnership between the university and federal, state and county governments to provide scientific knowledge and expertise to the public. Through Extension, the University of Minnesota "extends" its resources to address critical public issues in priority areas, including food and agriculture, communities, environment, youth and families. For more information, visit

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