Thursday, April 26, 2007

Prius Envy

My neighborhood, affluent and socially conscious, has become a Prius parking lot! People around here were early adopters of hybrid technology and by now it's very common to see hybrids everywhere. From the beginning, Prius owners raved about their new cars. "I love never going to the gas station anymore!" was one of the hyperbolic claims.
There are debates in the financial/business sector whether the premium is worth it when buying a hybrid. For some there are tax benefits to consider, but I think these arguments miss the point. What hybrids offer is an investment in minimizing one's ecological footprint. If you can afford it, it's a great thing to do for yourself, and also you are serving as a role model and helping to create demand for mass production of fuel efficient cars. In fact that is exactly what has happened. Now Toyota is advertising Priuses. We put a deposit in on one - back then there was an 18-month wait, no doubt adding to the car's cachet - but in the end we decided against a new car at all.
Priuses, while incredibly fuel-efficient, are actually very large cars. I mostly need a car for just myself, having passed the carpool and family outing stage, so I am waiting for the teensy Smart Cars to come to Mt. Airy, maybe an electric car. But I have noted what folks love about their Priuses. Some of it is practical. They are roomy and well-designed, with peppy engines. It's fun when the engine stops when you stop, giving the driver an immediate feeling of making a positive contribution to the environment. (And distracting you from the fact that you're driving....) Even more gratifying is the MPG gauge which continually feeds back, instantly training you to drive even more efficiently. This Virtue Meter is a fun challenge. Prius owners swap pointers on how to improve their mileage. The read-out also keeps you company, patting you on the back, telling you how environmentally responsible you are. It is possible to install such a gauge in a conventional car, but since what it would feed back to is so depressing, such as the 16 mpg on my Subaru, it would be a negative reinforcer, so this idea hasn't caught on.
People like the Prius no-key electronic entry system, though a few friends warn that if you lose the key, the results are very, very expensive. Have a copy made from the get-go! Do not wait until your key is one location and your car is at the airport parking lot, for example.
The major reason I decided against a new, more efficient car is that while I would like all to see that I am not a Gas-Guzzling Global Warming Emitter driving around in my mini-van, I have instead focused on driving less. I keep a daily log on a Google document and hope this year to come in under 2500 miles, nicely lower than the average American's 12,000 miles a year. I work at home, a major mileage lowering fact, but in addition I have relocated many of my goods and services to walking distance in the neighborhood: doctor, haircuts, bank, coffee place, and of course Coop. Having no children to tote around is another major contributer to independence from driving. I bike a bit, walk a lot, take mass transit, and carpool, each of which cuts out a few miles of driving. It's tempting to mooch rides, allowing my own numbers to stay low, so I try to make sure I also offer rides! And of course even if the miles are driven, with passengers they are driven more efficiently, and I might add, more pleasantly.
I am tickled that hybrids have taken off, but do remember that while it is better to drive a hybrid than a conventional car, it is even better to get your car off the road. Keep a daily log of your miles driven and many of the benefits of a fairly costly hybrid are yours, and the planet's, for free. I'd love to hear about your efforts to minimize your miles driven. Please share your strategies!


Anonymous said...

I have to commute to work, and there is no public transit way to get there. After driving a minivan for 12-13 years, now I have a Prius. It's the car of my neighborhood as well -- replacing the Subaru Outback, which replaced the blue Volvo station wagon before it. So from Prius-ville then, I can report that this car is WAAAAAAAAY more fun than you're giving it credit for. It also doesn't FEEL like the non-small car you describe. ZERO emissions is a good thing.
But speaking of mooching rides, since I got this car in Jan. 2006, I have just about never ridden in anyone else's car. Co-workers all pile into mine, saying "you get so much better mileage!" That's true, unless you consider that their cars aren't moving at all. But I don't mind. I'd recommend this car to anyone who needs to buy a car. I hope to have it for 12 years, too. I paid $3.29 per gallon of gas this week, so getting 50+ miles per gallon on a tank makes a noticeable difference. And it makes me happy.

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