Bank of America Corp. will unveil a program today to offer several thousand employees in the Boston region a $3,000 cash incentive to buy a hybrid car, joining a number of companies nationally, including Google Inc. and Timberland Co., that are offering perks to workers who drive fuel-saving vehicles.
At Timberland's headquarters in Stratham, N.H., hybrid-car drivers not only get a $3,000 rebate from the company, they also get to park in special reserved spaces near the front of the building, making them the only ones besides the chairman with their own spots. Some auto insurers are offering rate discounts, while the city of New Haven allows anyone driving a hybrid car to park at city meters for free.
Combined with federal tax credits of up to $3,400 for a hybrid purchase, corporate programs make the cost of hybrid cars comparable to or cheaper than their traditional counterparts. A hybrid car runs on both electric and gasoline motors to conserve fuel.
At right, Bonnie Monahan gets the benefit of a reserved space for her Toyota Highlander Hybrid at Timberland Co. in Stratham, N.H. (Lisa Poole for the Boston Globe)
Massachusetts hybrid car drivers may see even more incentives soon: At Bank of America's event to detail its new program today, Governor Mitt Romney plans to announce that he will back a proposal to give a $2,000 income tax deduction for purchasing select fuel-efficient vehicles, sales tax rebates, and the right to drive in the highway carpool lanes regardless of the number of passengers. The proposal is attached as an amendment to the Senate version of the 2007 budget and is co-sponsored by state senators Steven A. Baddour, Bruce E. Tarr, and Senate President Robert E. Travaglini.
All the incentives may tip the balance for consumers: Robbyn Tangney , brand marketing manager at Bank of America in Boston, said she and her husband, a small business owner who drives a lot for work, had been thinking about a hybrid but had worried about the cost. With the added incentives, she said, they may buy one later this year. ``It makes it a lot more realistic for us to be thinking about this," she said.
A hybrid car typically costs several thousand dollars more than its traditional counterpart. For example, a Honda Accord Hybrid costs about $30,990, compared to a regular gas-powered Accord, which ranges from $18,225 to $27,300.
Bank of America, which appears to be the largest company nationally to offer hybrid incentives, , will test its program in Boston, Los Angeles, and its headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., which together have about 21,000 eligible employees. If it is successful, the bank plans to roll it out to all 200,000 employees nationwide.
``This is of vital importance to our earth," said Anne Finucane , Bank of America's global marketing and corporate affairs executive. ``We want to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. We want to do our part."
In its Boston test program, any Bank of America worker who lives within 90 miles of the city will be eligible. The rebate will be taxable and will come in employees' regular paychecks.
At Timberland, an outdoor shoe and clothing company known for its boots, about 15 of its 5,600 employees have bought hybrids since it introduced rebates in late 2004. In March, Bonnie Monahan , the company's vice president of corporate planning and business development, bought a new Toyota Highlander Hybrid, which gets about 29 miles a gallon, to replace her Volkswagen Passat Wagon , which got just 22 miles a gallon. Now, Monahan estimates that she saves $485 a year on gas, and she also parks in one of Timberland's reserved hybrid spaces.
``It's so much closer to the building," she said. ``I always feel guilty pulling in in the morning, when everyone is headed to the back of the lot."
Hybrid cars tend to get higher gas mileage than regular cars and have lower emissions levels. That's one reason why environmental officials are praising Bank of America's decision to offer incentives and are encouraging other companies to follow.
``This is a significant environmental leadership initiative by Bank of America," said Bob Varney , the top Environmental Protection Agency official in New England.
Nationwide last year, hybrid car registrations increased 139 percent to 199,148, according to R.L. Polk & Co., a Southfield, Mich., provider of auto information.
But even as hybrid cars gain in popularity, there is still debate about whether all models are a good investment. Hybrid SUVs get roughly 30 miles a gallon, similar to a regular sedan, but higher than many regular SUVs. The corporate initiatives vary in terms of which hybrids are covered. Google, for example, requires workers' hybrids to get more than 45 miles a gallon to qualify for its incentives.
Though the hybrid discounts do not financially benefit the companies, they may boost their environmental image and improve employee morale, said David Vogel , a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley.
``It represents a relatively inexpensive and highly visible way for a company to proclaim its green commitments," he said in an e-mail.
Bank of America executives said the hybrid program is part of a broader environmental initiative that includes a voluntary goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and construction of an environmentally friendly skyscraper in New York.
At Google, where more than 100 out of its 6,800 employees have received either $5,000 cash back on a hybrid purchase or $2,500 toward a leased hybrid, the company has other environmental programs, such as donating money to charity for every employee who walks or bikes to work.
Said Easwar Iyer , a marketing professor at the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst: ``Businesses today are not satisfied with saying we made $10 at the end of the quarter and therefore we're successful."
© 2006 Boston Globe