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The Toyota Prius: Why leasing makes sense right now

Toyota Prius

"I want to save money on gasoline, 'go green' and drive a cool car. Shouldn't I be driving a Prius?"

The answer is yes, the Toyota Prius is a great option for someone with the above criteria for choosing a car. The real question is whether to buy or lease the car. A close look at the Prius story reveals that leasing the car makes more financial sense than buying one; at least for now.

The Toyota Prius has been making headlines since its debut of the "third generation Hybrid Synergy Drive" in 2004. Toyota has been steadily changing and improving the car and continues to do so even now. Each year, many consumers can hardly wait to find out how the newest Prius model will out-perform the last year's car. Drivers who lease their hybrids get to drive the newest models every two to three years, depending on the terms of their leases. They essentially pay only for the portion of the vehicle's value that they use over the term of the lease, and they are always in the driver's seat of cutting edge, high-efficiency cars! (See The Basics of Automobile Leasing for more details on the advantages of leasing.)

Consider the confusion and the hype over the release of the '09 Prius, for example. Back in 2007, several magazines wrote about "rumors" of the '09 hybrid using solar panels on the roof, potentially using plug-in lithium ion batteries to power the car, and some magazines even speculated the car would get up to 80 mpg. In actuality the '09 car did include some of these features. A recent press release for the 2009 Prius boasts solar panels on the roof that power a portion of the air conditioning unit, but the car is still using NiMh battery technology (nickel metal hydride) and is said to exceed 50 mpg. While that sounds pretty good, now the 2010 model is scheduled to be Toyota's first car to partially utilize lithium battery technology.

The point? People who bought the 2009 Prius will be kicking themselves when/if the 2010 model actually does use new battery technology to get better fuel economy- maybe even 80 mpg? The Prius owners may have trouble trading in their '09 cars to buy 2010 models without taking huge financial losses. Consumers who lease the 2009 Prius can enjoy the ride until their lease is up, then step into the latest and greatest version of the car.

New technology in batteries, solar energy, and fuel economy in general is allowing car manufacturers to be innovative in their design of new cars. In the scheme of things, hybrids are still relatively new to the automobile market. Smart consumers will drive hybrids, but they will lease them until they find a make and model that is proven and incorporates the anticipated changes.

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