A couple of days ago I ran across yet another "hybrid vs. regular car" cost comparison. As usually is the case, the retail price of the vehicle was combined with the cost to own it for 6 years, including standard maintenance and, of course, gas consumption (based on 15,000 miles driven per year). The results should'n come as a surprise to anybody: some hybrid cars are cheaper to own than their conventional counterparts, others are significantly more expensive. The reason is pretty simple: assuming the maintenance cost is the same for both versions, the only way to "recoup" the additional cost for the hybrid system (usually around $3,500 - $6,000) is through the increased gas mileage in the hybrid car. And if you purchase a hybrid SUV that only gets 5 or 7 more miles to the gallon, chances are you're not going to come out ahead at the end of the six years.
So, what's a car buyer to do? First, compare the smallest and most efficient vehicles for your needs. Do you really need a pickup? Or could you borrow or even rent one for the two times a year you need to haul something? Evaluate your driving situations: do you mostly drive on the highway, or do you log a lot of miles in the city, with stop-and-go traffic? Do you have a relatively short commute, or is it at least 20 minutes each way? Hybrid systems need to "warm up" before reaching heir full potential; so if you only drive a few miles and then let the car cool off again, you will most likely not see the mileage you're hoping for. Lastly, calculate how much the car will save you over the timeframe you are planning to keep it: many people drive their cars well beyond the six years mentioned above. Once you get your initial investment for the Hybrid system back in savings, you will keep saving with each mile you drive.
When I bought my Prius in 2002 (a 2003 model), I did it because I felt it was the right thing to do for the environment, at a fair price. 140,000 miles later, I have had no regrets. I don't pay attention to gas prices anymore (the tank only holds just under 12 gallons), because I use so little of it. The lifetime average gas mileage for my particular car and its driving conditions has been just under 40mpg. That's summer and winter driving, highway and city combined. I'm very happy with that.
So, when you need to buy a car, please consider all of the options. Do your homework and decide what's best for you. Oh, and if it helps: our "other car" is a '96 Explorer. It sits mostly in the garage, unless I have to haul something on our little trailer, or if the weather is bad during the winter.