Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Patiently Praying for a Prius

(c) Andy Ternay
  • This is our poor, sad Max.

  • Two months to Samhain! We are entering my favorite time of year: fall. I love the word September because it is immediately followed by the best calendar word of all, October. After that, things pretty much suck until next September. Well, that may be a bit of an extreme observation, but at the moment I am not thinking of any exceptions.

    Lisa and I got a bit of bad news here.

    The story is this: we have ordered a new Toyota Prius hybrid because one of our cars is literally falling apart. That would be Max, the car we inherited when Laura’s grandfather passed away. We got Max for free, so believe me, I am not complaining. If we had not inherited Max around the time we did, things would have been pretty grim for us. But Max has issues, the most visible of which is that he was manufactured the year that Plymouth stopped using paint containing CFC’s. Plymouth had not yet gotten down how to make paint that did not include CFC’s. So Max’s paint is simply peeling off.

    Lisa and I have always been tree-huggers. I guess I am a tree-hugging dirt worshipper now, I suppose. I define the sacred by what I find in nature. Lisa is more of a conservative than I, and I mean conservative in a literal sense here: one who conserves. Lisa also has a longer history of environmental activism than I do. That is the primary reason we wanted to purchase a Prius; it is a commitment to our principles. We have agreed that to us it is worth it to pay more for a car and practice what we preach than to buy a conventional car.

    So, we have been on a waiting list for the past five months, waiting for our Prius to arrive. Yesterday we learned that the wait in Dallas is much longer than in California or Colorado. That is because Toyota allocates the new model Prius based on sales of the old model Prius. In Texas, sales of the old model Prius sucked. So, where a California dealership may get four Priuses? Prii? per month, a Texas dealership will get two. Our six month wait may really be a year wait is what we are being told.

    We could purchase a Prius today if we wanted to—some dealerships sell them on a first come, first serve basis. The local one doing so is charging $10k over MSRP. So, if I want instant gratification, I must be prepared to pay an extra arm and a leg and I won’t do it.

    I don’t think Max will last another three months. I think two or one may be his limit. He’s in bad shape.

    There are other hybrid vehicles on the market, and most of them do not have waiting lists. Honda makes the Insight and the Honda Civic Hybrid. However, these are mild hybrids, not true hybrids. What that means is that the electric motor only assists the car with acceleration and the battery is charged by using the extra kinetic energy of the engine. This results in a minor improvement in gas mileage.

    The only true hybrid on the market is the Prius. By true hybrid I mean that the electric motor is the primary motor. At stoplights, the Prius shuts off completely (eliminating all those nasty, pointless emissions a conventional car makes whilst sitting motionless at a red light). When you accelerate after the light turns green the electric motor starts instantly and operates until about 20mph is reached, whereupon it starts the internal combustion engine (ICE). The extra energy from the ICE charges the battery, as does braking. About 33% of the energy usually lost as heat from braking is recaptured and used to charge the battery.

    We want a Prius. And it is time to start shopping in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas for one.