Sunday, August 10, 2008

Going Green = Spending Green?

Lately, I've been on a quest to convince people if they really care about the environment, it might be better to quit buying so much stuff. If you really do have to buy something, watch out for the environmentalist hype surrounding what you are buying. And please think about what you are going to do with it when you are done.

I can't get over how many people are buying the Toyota Prius. Once a niche vehicle for environmentalists, now it seems everybody feels a need to get one. There's nothing like skyrocketing gas prices to make a person want to "save the environment". Or, if saving the environment doesn't suit your political agenda, you can always call it "reducing our dependence on foreign oil". Besides, there are lots of celebrities driving the Prius. Who wouldn't want to be as funny as Will Farrell or Bill Maher? I know that I have personally wanted to be more like Cameron Diaz many times in my life - here's my chance! According to Ariana Huffington, even Jesus would drive one.

One fact that's not too well known about the Prius is that you don't get that promised 48 mpg on the highway - that's just for city driving. Real life Prius drivers get less than 48 mpg, on average. However, I regularly beat every Prius owner on the planet with my fuel economy. I'll let you in on a little secret....I get 70 mpg, on average, every day. My carbon footprint is nearly half of any Prius driver's, including Brad Pitt. How do I do it?

It's not very glamorous. Here's how I make it happen. I carpool to work in a 2008 Ford Focus. It gets 35 mpg, per the EPA, but my carpool partner and I get 38 mpg on average. By the way, we know this as a fact because we take data. We're engineers, we can't help ourselves - we live to take data. "Trust, then verify" is our mantra. I can't tell you how many Prius drivers tell me they think that they "regularly get over 50 mpg" because they look at their vehicle's in dash monitor on occasion and see a number that they like to see and they pat themselves on the back. I challenge you to write down that number every day for 2 weeks and see what you "regularly get". I won't even make you calculate the standard deviation....but I promise you that if you look at your MPG every day, you might be surprised at what your personal average is. Try it and tell me about it, even if you don't drive a Prius.

Even if you are driving alone, a Focus makes more financial sense than a Prius. Per the EPA, the typical annual fuel cost for a 2008 Ford Focus is $2196 and a 2008 Prius is $1335. The cost of a base 2008 Ford Focus is about $15K and the 2008 Prius about $23K, so it take 10 years to break even in fuel savings. So, if you still want to buy the Prius, have you considered what you're going to do with it's batteries when you are done? Don't tell Ariana, but I don't think Jesus would drive a Prius unless he had a plan for the batteries. I'm thinking that instead, he's driving a secondhand van and using that extra cash to feed the hungry and he is carpooling with Will Farrell, Bill Maher and some of the apostles and I sure hope there's still a seat for me. I definitely think Jesus would carpool. Is the seat next to Brad Pitt still available?


Shayne said...

This is going under the most entertaining post of the week. I love it and being married to an auto motive engineer and a former automotive accountant I can appreciate it that much more.

I drive Rouge. It may not get the mileage like the focus but I love it and Hubby drives a Honda. When in college I regularly checked my mileage on my Honda and would get on average 36 MPG but I did take a road trip that gave me 42MPG, now that was a car and I sold the thing running with 300,000 miles.

Anonymous said...

Sigh.. More Prius battery myths... Just like the Ford Escape Hybrid (which your car's maker offers), the Prius battery carries an 8- year / 100,000-mile warranty. Replacement cost is FREE within the warranty period, but a Prius or Escape Hybrid needing a warranty battery replacement virtually unheard of.

THe warranty for hybrid batteries by the way is 10-years / 150,000-miles in states with California-standard emissions regs.

New York City has been using hybrids since 2004 as taxi cabs, which operates under the absolute WORST daily conditions, many have exceeded 200,000 miles, and NONE needed battery replacement. It's working out so well, NYC is moving to an ALL HYBRID TAXI FLEET by 2012.

Recycling? Toyota offers a $200 bounty to return a Prius battery for recycling if you are going to junk an old Prius.

If you say carpooling two people in a 35mpg Focus gives you "70mpg", how about people who carpool in the Prius? 92mpg according to your calculations.

And people regularly beat the EPA estimate for the Prius. Just check in with the Prius owners here:

For an engineer who looks for data, you sure are biased towards hearsay on things you don't like.

Cynthia said...

And are you carpooling in your Prius?

Emily said...


Our Prius calculates by the tank (or as often as you reset the meter). During the summer, every single tank I drive that's at least 50% city gets 50+ mpg. My husband gets more like 47mpg. :) Highway driving is closer to 45-46, and winter is even lower. It was the only thing that could match th mileage when we bought it used in 2005.

Anonymous said...

I have owned a Prius for 1 year, and love it. I am a former test driver, having worked for 3 different auto manufacturers (not Toyota), driving many other makes of vehicles while at these companies. Plus, I am from a Ford family and can buy a Ford on "A"plan. My mother drives a Focus, my sister the Lincoln MKZ sedan, and my son the Ford Fusion. The only reason my mother still buys Ford is out of a sense of loyalty, and my sister & son because of the discount. They would prefer another brand.

Of course I had to test-drive their vehicles when they got them and I was amazed at the crappy fit and finish, and various rumbles and rattles, the driver seat breaking down after 2000 miles on the Fusion, initial brake problems on the Focus, and the sloppy handling of the Focus. Believe me, I want to like Fords but there's not much to like--yet.

Regarding the gas mileage on my Prius, every day, all the time I get at least 52 MPG, frequently 56 MPG. Just tooling around my rural area, or just the city of A2 it's 60 MPG. My routine drive involves 20 miles of country roads, 45 miles of expressway, and 5-10 miles of A2 city driving. The only time I get less than the above is in the winter when I use my heater and the MPG drops to 48 MPG.

I didn't buy the car to save the environment, I bought the Prius because it is a well made, great car that is roomy, rides and handles like a dream, and has reduced my fuel costs by at least half of a comparably sized & equipped car. It has traction control, and stability control, handling Michigan winters better than my previous vehicle (an AWD Subaru Forester). While MPG was my main concern when shopping for a car last year, safety was right up there too, and even my lower-end Prius is steller in that area as well.

In the past, I have purchased the cheaper and/or used vehicles (American), thinking it was the most economical way to go, and like just about anything, you get what you pay for. They were nothing but money and trouble. We keep our vehicles for 10 years or so, drive a lot of miles and have found that Japanese companies are still producing a superior line of vehicles. Korea is gaining-FAST. Hopefully, the American manufacturers can sooner-than-later get out of this low-quality rut they've been in since the early 80's.

BTW, my husband sort of hates the Prius because he says it reminds him of Al Gore (hubby is a staunch republican). I told him I actually saw a Prius in A2 that had a pro "George W" bumper sticker on it, so it's okay for him to at least ride in it now!

Interesting blog. I came for the food but ending up writing my first blog comment on cars. Found you from the Kitchen Chick blog.

Erica said...

There are other alternatives as well ... consider a diesel engine! I regularly get 40+ mpg (50+ on freeway trips) with my VW Golf TDI - no fancy gauges, just calculating miles per fillup.

But yes, your point about carpooling is very well taken - if anyone other than my toddler were going the same places I drive, I'd consider it :)

TennZen said...

Thank you for speaking up on this. So many people are following the "green chic" that they're really missing the point. It's all about doing the best with what you've got. The true green movement has 3 R's... REDUCE reuse and recycle. Perhaps add another R... Rideshare!

Love your blog. - TZ