They were a little bit more expensive, but the fuel savings were significant. The federal and state government adopted tax credits. Virginia also exempted hybrid vehicles from emissions testing and allowed these new cars to be plated with "Clean Fuel" license plates that were granted a then little used exemption for High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV) in 1994. The affordability of this new technology coupled with the HOV exemption pushed thousands of Virginians to purchase these new cars.
I was one of them.
My wife and I had two children. After our second child was born, I bought my dad’s 1995 Honda Accord and sold a two-door Saturn. The gas mileage on the Accord was average and the fuel efficiency of hybrid’s intrigued me. A local Toyota dealership said I would have to wait eight months for a Prius. Sheehy Honda on U.S. 1 in Hybla Valley told me they could put me in a Honda Civic Hybrid in a week and this week, my 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid has 180,000 miles on it and turns 10 years-old.
My gas mileage has averaged around 47 MPG over the life of the car. Given that the average U.S. vehicle today gets around 23 MPG or probably closer to 21 over the last 10 years. Over the last ten years, this means:
- My vehicle used about 4,741 less gallons of gas than the average American vehicle
- That equals about 380 fewer trips to the gas station over the last 10 years, 2,654 minutes saved pumping gas at 7 minutes per visit, or about 44 fewer hours standing around a gas station.
- Assuming an average price of $3.25/gallon - I have saved about $15,410 on gasoline
- I have also saved a hours driving in HOV lanes (mainly in Old Town Alexandria and I-66 given my commuting patterns)
- My vehicle put about 90,000 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (see here for calculations)
These were many of the reasons so many Virginians were eager to purchase hybrid technology and remain willing to invest in alternative fuel vehicles. It also why over last year 7,000 people signed a petition I launched with Senator Adam Ebbin after Virginia attempted to assess a $100 annual tax on hybrid vehicles on top of $25 of annual license plate fees. People felt as if it was akin to the government taxing non-smokers - taxing people for doing the right thing.
Hybrids proved to be so popular between 2004-2005 that regular users of the I-95/I-395 HOV lanes began to complain so the DMV authorized a new clean fuel plate to limit the exemption to the "original" hybrid vehicles. New vehicles could use all HOV lanes except the I-95/I-395 lanes.
About two weeks ago, the Department of Motor Vehicles sent legislators a letter was going out to the 10,000 remaining "original" hybrid owners (including me) notifying us that the I-95/I-395 hybrid exemption was being shut down due to the conversion of the HOV lanes to HOT lanes in about six months. Here's the letter.
It was interesting to me that 10,000 people have held on to their vehicles for so long. I was proud of my purchase when I made it. Many hybrid owners, especially the "original" purchasers, bought these vehicles because they wanted to help stem the damage to our air, national security, and checkbook caused by gasoline consumption. Many hybrid owners also view ownership as an expression of their values.
As this last benefit is removed, the popularity of fuel efficient vehicle technology has broadened and incentives are not as necessary to encourage Virginians to purchase efficient vehicles.
These early hybrid vehicle subsidies are probably one of Virginia's most successful government programs to alter consumer behavior. Today, nearly 100,000 Virginians drive hybrid vehicles. Collectively, that has made a real difference. It has also proven that there is a market for green technology in Virginia, and that the government can help encourage consumers to improve Virginia’s environment if it carefully targets subsidies at consumers.