Stop Guzzling, Start Cashing In
As soaring gas prices strain the budgets of commuters, a small but growing number of employers are coming to the rescue. At least half a dozen companies, including Google, Timberland, and Patagonia, are giving bonuses to workers who buy hybrid or other gas-saving vehicles.
Initially offered to promote feel-good ideals like reducing pollution, the benefit is now proving a hot ticket because it is good for everybody's pocketbook. Hybrids such as the Toyota Prius, which is rated as getting 55 mpg, can slash commuters' gas bills by more than half. And employers say the benefit reduces their human-resources costs by raising loyalty and easing recruiting.
Fast-food fuel. Workers at Patagonia are now more interested in the company's offer of $2,000 to employees who buy hybrids or alternative-fuel cars, says Coley Malloy of the outdoor wear company. She used the money to have her 1984 Mercedes diesel station wagon retrofitted to run on vegetable oil recycled from fast-food joints. That cut her monthly fuel bills from $300 to about $70. "It is a lot of work to get the oil and maintain the car," she warns coworkers. But whenever she drives by a gas-guzzling SUV, Malloy says, "I rev my engine and let them smell the tacos."
The benefit is also helping out managers at Hyperion. The Silicon Valley software company has handed out $5,000 grants to 75 workers who've bought cars that get at least 45 mpg. Hyperion is so happy with the benefit that it has posted advice for other companies on its website, encouraging managers to offer the grants to their workers to help the environment and help themselves. The grants improve morale and have been a terrific recruiting tool among hard-to-find techies, Hyperion spokesman Bob Schettino says: "We have people who come to us and say, 'I really like what you guys are doing. I want to look at job opportunities at your company.' "
This story appears in the October 10, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.