Hybrid cars are typically better for the environment than their conventional counterparts, but consumers have to pay a premium for the hybrid model. Unfortunately, the premium for hybrid models doesn’t come from the price of the hybrid components alone. Many automakers have forced consumers to buy pricey option packages and forced features that are standard on hybrid models but not their non-hybrid counterparts.

The use of forced features in hybrid models led the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) to examine the hybrid passenger vehicles available in today’s market. The UCS compared the vehicle’s environmental benefits, translated into an Environmental Score, to the forced features and ultimately determined the overall hybrid value. These values were then published online as part of the UCS Hybrid Scorecard.


Although the Toyota doesn’t make a non-hybrid Prius, the UCS used the 2010 Toyota Matrix for comparison’s sake. Not surprisingly, the best-selling Toyota Prius came out on top of the UCS list with a 9.8 Environmental Score and a Very High hybrid value. The Prius’ 50-mpg rating helped with the overall hybrid value but so did the fact that there are only $1,600 in forced features on the Prius when compared to the Matrix.

The Honda Civic Hybrid takes second place on the UCS Hybrid Scorecard with a 7.8 Environmental Score and a High hybrid value. However, the Civic Hybrid has more than $3,000 in forced features when compared to the non-hybrid Civic. If the Honda Civic Hybrid had fewer mandatory upgrades, the hybrid value would be better.

At the other end of the UCS Hybrid Scorecard list are the poor performers. Although General Motors has abandoned the Saturn line, the Saturn Aura Hybrid makes an appearance on the scorecard. Despite the fact that there were only $870 in forced features on the hybrid model, the Aura Hybrid still receives a Low overall hybrid value. This is due to an Environmental Score of 3.0. The Aura Hybrid only reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent when compared to the non-hybrid Aura. This doesn’t justify the $2,800 cost of hybridization plus the $870 in forced features.

The Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid scored a bit better than the Aura Hybrid, but not by much. The Malibu Hybrid only requires $900 in forced features but the UCS calls it a “hollow hybrid.” The vehicle cannot operate on the electric only motor and thus isn’t considered a full hybrid. When combining this with the 14 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over a conventional Malibu, the Malibu Hybrid received a 3.5 Environmental Score. This is worse than the General Motors’ line of truck and SUV hybrids.

It is important that consumers thoroughly research a hybrid car before purchasing one. In the land of hybrid vehicles, all are not created equal. A hollow hybrid like the Malibu offers very little environmental value compared to its less expensive conventional counterpart. However, the hybrid logo on the back of the car may be misleading to consumers who think they are getting a good deal on an eco-friendly car.

Union of Concerned Scientists questions true value of hybrid cars
Option packages and other 'forced' features increase the base price of many vehicles, balancing out the environmental value, group says.