No New Car… For Now

I’ve spent the last few weeks looking at new car options, trying to figure out a replacement for my 2007 Dodge Caliber.  I paid off the car in December (the Bank of Mom-in-Law offers competitive rates), and this is probably the longest I’ve gone without having to make car payments.  There’s nothing wrong with the Caliber but I’m ready to drive something different.

My mom is a Chrysler retiree, so I’m able to take advantage of the “green sheet” or employee discounted pricing program.  Every Chrysler, Dodge, etc. invoice has a price at the bottom marked “EP” and that is the price that employees, retirees, and their immediate family pay.  It makes for a low-stress process for buying a car. Unfortunately, it also makes it hard to stray from the family when you shop.  I like Chrysler and Dodge, especially now with the new leadership and engineering coming from Fiat, but their lineup is missing high-MPG vehicles like hybrids and electric vehicles (EVs).  While the Dart does get 40 mpg in certain configurations, that is only for highway driving. I’d like something that gets that kind of mileage for city driving.

My work commute is 22 miles (11 miles each way), and if you add lunch at my favorite restaurant, Riverbend Restaurant and Bar, I’m looking at a total of 40 miles for the day.  It comes out to around 9,400 miles each year, and almost all of it is city driving.  That meshes nicely with the aforementioned hybrids and EVs, so I spent a lot of time looking at options for those kinds of cars with the Dodge Dart throw in for good measure.  I considered the Dart, the Toyota Prius 5 and Prius C, the Ford C-Max, the Nissan Leaf, and the Chevy Volt. I’m sure everyone has some other car I should have considered that is less expensive, yet offers high mileage with a conventional gas engine, but this is my list so I’ll pick the cars. I left off the upcoming Ford Fusion EV, because initial availability is limited, and the Prius plug-in because its range is hardly enough to get me to work.

After many hours of web searches, test drives, and spreadsheets, I finally came up with a decision: wait, don’t buy now.  Talk about a disappointing conclusion. Once you start looking at new cars, you’re supposed to end with actually buying a new car and having all the fun that comes with the purchase. Keeping your old car is anything but fun. In this case, however, it is the best choice.

The Dodge Dart turned out to be the second lowest cost option (looking at payments, fuel, insurance, etc.) and in most cases offered more features and capability than any of the other options. The Prius C came in at the lowest cost, but didn’t come close to the Dart in creature comforts. The employee discount on the Dart, coupled with the low annual mileage balanced the cost-savings from cheaper energy and minimal maintenance of an EV.  Even with the federal tax credit of $7,500 for EVs, it just didn’t add up. The downside of the Dart is it doesn’t come with a hatchback option, so you’re stuck with a trunk. I’ll take the utility, ease of access, and space savings of a hatch over a trunk every time.

Enter the Chrysler 100.  I stumbled across the 100 in posts showing spy shots of a test mule.  The 100 is going to be built on the same platform as the Dart but as a hatchback, more like the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, from which the Dart was derived. Released as a 2013, the 100 should reach dealers sometime in the first half of 2013.

For now I’ll wait and see what happens with the Chrysler 100, the new 2013 Nissan Leafs that will be built in Tennessee, and possible lease offers that become available in the meantime.  Both Nissan and GM were offering crazy 24 month leases in August (that I missed by a few days; I have terrible timing) to move Leafs and Volts. Imagine 24 month leases with no money down and payments under $200. I could kick myself for missing out on these.  Odds are low that they will bring back deals anywhere close to those, but you never know. If they do, this time I’ll be ready to pounce.

Side Note: If you’re interested in keeping up with the latest news on hybrid and EV vehicles, check out Green Car Reports.

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