Car buyer’s dilemma

I have not owned a car since my aging Honda Civic was stolen eight years ago, when I banked the modest payout from the insurance company and never looked back. I had the use of my wife’s car up until September 2006 when we separated, so I have truly been carless for not quite two years — and loving it. I live two minutes from commuter trains that take me to downtown Manhattan in a matter of minutes, then it’s about a 15 minute walk to my workplace. If I need to get somewhere that isn’t reasonably accessible by public transportation or walking, then I take a taxi or someone gives me a ride. If the destination is not local, then I rent a car. You might be surprised how beautiful and liberating it is to live this way. No parking hassles, no insurance or maintenance expenses, no sitting in traffic wishing I were somewhere else.
Alas, my carless days are coming to an end, because my daughter and her mother are moving over 20 miles from where I live. I had long since decided that I wanted my next automobile to be a hybrid — fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly. The fact that I need a car now, as gasoline is up to $4.00 a gallon, is an unfortunate coincidence. Gas prices have driven demand for hybrids to the point where dealers can get away with a little gouging. Perhaps six months ago you could have negotiated and paid $200 over the dealer invoice price for a Toyota Prius. Now you will likely pay at least $2000 over the so-called MSRP, and you will wait anywhere from several weeks to three months for the privilege. Moreover, you will be forced to pay for leather seats, GPS and other luxuries that you might not need or want, because the more economical “packages” are sold out till fuck knows when.
Now, suppose you aren’t comfortable paying over $30,000 for a car equipped with stuff that you don’t want? Further suppose that you do have the money to do it anyway, although it will be a sacrifice. Further suppose that you might well not drive the car enough for the fuel savings to pay for the expense of the Prius relative to a less expensive car — in other words in pure financial terms you’d do better with something like a Honda Fit or Civic, Toyota Yaris or Corolla. That’s a purely selfish economic calculus that does not factor in the environmental impact. What to do?
Here’s what’s disturbing: in order for Americans to begin to wake up to reality and look for fuel efficiency, they have had to be struck hard on the head with the large, heavy club of $4/gallon gas. Capitalist market dynamics being what they are, consumers are forced to pay a premium — to put it politely — to do the right thing by getting a responsible car. This is the inverse of what should be. Government should be forcing auto manufacturers to adhere to a timetable for phasing out 100% gas-powered cars entirely, levy a surcharge on buyers of gas-powered cars, and use the revenue to provide rebates to consumers who buy hybrids. Environmentally friendly behavior should be encouraged and rewarded — but no. Instead they shove it up your ass so far your eyeballs pop out of your head.