C-Max Energi Plug-in Costs Less than Hybrid, After Incentives
Here’s a new twist on the price premium argument against buying a car that plugs into the grid. Ford priced the plug-in version of the C-Max so close to the conventional hybrid version that—after considering federal and state incentives, as well as trim packages—shoppers can drive away with the plug-in at virtually the same price.
As usually, the devil is in the details. With three different add-on premium packages available for the C-Max Hybrid, shoppers with sharp pencils might make a different argument. But considering that a loaded C-Max Hybrid SEL tops out at $30,000, and the base price of the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid is $33,745, the difference in the price of admission for the two vehicles is less than $4,000.
When you subtract a federal tax credit of $3,750 for the Energi, and a $1,500 cash rebate from California, you actually come ahead from Day One with the plug-in model. Every day after that, especially for drivers with commutes within the 21-mile EV range of the Energi, the cost of electric fuel is less than half the cost of gasoline. Also, the estimated efficiency jumps from 47 MPG in the hybrid, to 100 MPGe in the plug-in. (For now, let's leave aside higher resale value, or external benefits like reduced emissions.)
There are trade-offs. Buyers would be forgoing some of those luxury features, like premium audio, heated seats, and hands-free liftgate, in exchange for keeping the price of the plug-in to the same level as the hybrid. Also, the hatch cargo space in the plug-in drops from 52.6 cubic feet to 42.8 cubic feet.
Nonetheless, the price premium for an EV or plug-in hybrid is often characterized as 2X that of an internal combustion model. The media usually compares the Chevy Volt to the Chevy Cruze. And I criticized G.M. for pricing the Chevy Spark EV at $32,000, when the gas-powered version starts at $12,000. Ford breaks ranks by showing that a plug-in with a relatively modest battery pack and all-electric range doesn’t necessarily have to cost that much more. (Ford pioneered this concept when it priced the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid at exact same price as the conventional version).
Now, Ford needs to support its attractive plug-in pricing with the right marketing. That has not really been happening. In November 2012 and December 2012, the C-Max Hybrid outsold the plug-in Energi by about three-to-one. There are logical reasons, most notably limited supply of the Energi. “Consumers, as well as dealers and salespeople, are also more familiar with hybrids than plug ins,” explained Alan Baum, an auto market analyst, in an email to me this morning. “The reduced cargo capacity is of particular importance to the buyers that are being pitched for this vehicle.”
Fair enough, but the near-parity of the pricing is still noteworthy—and signals a shift. We can now look at the C-Max models and see how the two biggest criticisms against plug-ins—higher cost and limited range—can be reduced and eventually eliminated. And how the shift will affect the numbers of plug-in models on the road.
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