Michigan socks hybrid owners with new fees—that don't apply to most hybrids

The state of Michigan, to help pay for road repairs, decided more than a year ago to hit owners of hybrids and electric cars with additional fees starting this January 1—on top of higher registration rates for all cars.

The new fees have been added to the registration bills for hybrids, plug-in hybrid, and battery-electric cars because they don’t burn enough gasoline to generate the same state tax revenue as other vehicles.

Hybrid owners are now being hit with the twin increases, noted The Detroit Free Press yesterday, and suffering severe sticker shock as a result.

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It appears, however, that fees in the bill enacted do not apply to conventional hybrid cars at all—even though the Free Press quotes the owner of two such hybrids being assessed the increased fees.

The paper noted that Shiva Ganganithi, who owns a 2007 Toyota Prius and a 2011 Prius, got hit with registration renewals totaling $339, or $130 more than his previous renewals—a jump that he called “astronomical.”

According to the language of the law, a hybrid is “a vehicle that can be propelled at least in part by electrical energy and uses a battery storage system of at least four kilowatt-hours, but is also capable of using gasoline, diesel fuel, or alternative fuel to propel the vehicle.”

That would appear to eliminate the vast majority of Cadillac, Chevrolet, Ford, GMC, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota conventional hybrid vehicles without plugs, whose nickel-metal-hydride or lithium-ion batteries run from 0.6 kwh to 2.1 kwh. 

Hybrid owner Ganganithi’s pair of Toyota Priuses, from the 2007 and 2011 model years, have battery capacities of 1.3 kwh and 1.6 kwh respectively.

Neither is remotely close to meeting the 4-kwh minimum that would qualify those cars for the new fees. Only plug-in hybrid powertrains in certain models have battery packs of 4 kwh or more.

Those include the 2011-2017 Chevrolet Volt, the 2012-2015 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, the Energi versions of the 2013-2017 Ford Fusion and Ford C-Max, and the new 2017 Toyota Prius Prime, among others.

Which raises the question of whether the state is applying fees to conventional hybrids that the language of the law does not permit.

Ganganithi may have been assessed fees on his pair of Priuses, but they do not qualify as hybrids under the language of the bill enacted—which may have confused conventional hybrids with plug-in hybrids.

In November 2015, Michigan governor Rick Snyder signed several bills that collectively made up a $1.2 billion funding package to help repair the state’s notoriously rough and pot-holed roads.

The state’s registration fees for passenger cars and commercial trucks, which are based on the age and value of the vehicle, rose by roughly 20 percent.

Additional costs apply for special types of license plates and a recreation passport that grants access to state parks, with this year’s average cost running about $120 per car, according to a state spokewoman.

The state fuel tax (presently 19 cents per gallon for gasoline, and 15 cents per gallon of diesel fuel) was raised by 7.3 cents per gallon, starting January 1.

In addition, owners of hybrids were to pay a $30 surcharge as well as the increased registration fees, plus a $17 gasoline tax.

The fees for cars that do not use gasoline or diesel fuel are higher yet: the additional surcharge is $100 a year, plus a $35 gasoline tax.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, and the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, and the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Enlarge Photo

If you live in Michigan and own either a hybrid or an electric car, you should think hard about renewing your registration by December 31—even if it’s not due for several more months.

The state will let you renew your registration at the current rate—if you do it by the end of this year.

State residents can check the cost of their vehicle registration fee by entering a Vehicle Identification Number or license-plate number into the “registration fee lookup” tool on the Michigan Department of State’s website.

[hat tip: John Briggs]

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