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    Hybrid Vehicles' Fuel Efficiency Falls Short of Claims

    Some mileage performance 25 percent lower than EPA results.

    SAN FRANCISCO -- Toyota and Honda have scored huge successes with their hybrid cars, but now face a growing number of angry buyers who have found that the cars' fuel efficiency falls short of advertised claims, reported CBS Marketwatch.

    U.S. sales of gas-electric vehicles are soaring along with gasoline prices. Toyota Prius buyers are waiting four months or more for delivery in most markets, sales of Honda's hybrid Civic hit a record in April and Ford is preparing for an onslaught of orders for the coming rollout of its new hybrid Escape, the first SUV of its kind.

    Initially popular with green-minded drivers for their low emissions and fuel efficiency, hybrids are now attracting buyers entirely for anticipated fuel savings. Trouble is, the disclaimer "actual mileage may vary" has never been truer than with these vehicles.

    Under test-track conditions, Consumer Reports found the Prius and hybrid Civic's actual mileage performance is 20 to 25 percent lower than the Environmental Protection Agency's lab-tested results.

    "These vehicles are designed to do well on the EPA cycle," said David Champion, Consumer Reports' senior director of automotive testing. "If you're looking at a hybrid just as a financial investment, it doesn't make sense."

    Buyers star-struck by the stated fuel-efficiency ratings don't realize that, even with gas at $2 per gallon gas, it would take 12 years to recoup the cost of a hybrid Civic versus a similarly equipped gas-engine model, Champion said. Based on Consumer Reports results, the annual savings on a Civic hybrid vs. a top-of-the-line Civic EX driven 15,000 miles per year is $200 at that pump price. But the hybrid costs about $2,400 more.

    The 2004 Prius, touted on Toyota's Web site as Motor Trend's Car of the Year, produced 55 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving in the EPA tests. The hybrid Civic yielded 47.5 miles-per-gallon. Consumer Reports found the Prius averaged 44 miles per gallon overall and the Civic got 36 miles per gallon -- about 11 miles per gallon less than the EPA ratings.

    Critics say the EPA tests overstate results in deference to automakers, which for years successfully fought any increase in federally mandated "fleet" mileage ratings on their vehicle line-ups. Instead of using ever-advancing technology to build more fuel-efficient cars, they've built more high-horsepower engines to drive the higher-profit SUVs, minivans and V6 sedans they've marketed to U.S. consumers accustomed to cheap gasoline.

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