Saving the planet and your pocketbook
Maybe you’ve seen them around town—mid-sized sedans with a boxy, futuristic style. They run on a combination of an electric motor, a gasoline-fueled engine, and a giant battery that powers the electric motor. If you’re wondering why anyone would drive such an odd looking car, just ask a few local residents who love their hybrids.
Most hybrids cost more than comparable cars with gasoline engines. However, over the lifetime of the car, owners find that lower fuel, maintenance, and repair costs more than make up the difference. Several automakers have jumped on the hybrid bandwagon. The popular Toyota Prius was the first on the market, followed by the Highlander and the Camry. The Lexus RX, Ford Escape SUV, and Honda Civic and Accord hybrids are also available, though less in demand.
Tax advantages are one reason consumers are turning to hybrid cars. Memorial resident Alice Brink received a $600 deduction on her tax return after purchasing her Toyota Prius in 2001. After 92,000 miles, it’s still going strong.
Alice’s father is a retired Ph.D. chemist and science buff who turned 90 last month. He’s also a member of Concerned Scientists for the Environment—and he was the first in the family to own a Prius.
“He studied up,” Alice says. And then she followed suit.
“I wanted a car that was a conversation piece,” she said. “I thought I’d have to order it, but they happened to have one, and I bought it on the spot. It fits me. I’m a gadget freak,” she laughs. “I love my toys!”
But, if you’re looking for a sports car, the hybrid isn’t for you.
“When my sons drive it, they’re unimpressed,” she says. “But it’s perfect for stop-and-go commuting. When you apply the brake, it recharges the battery. It’s called ‘regenerative braking.’ I’ve driven for four years without changing the battery,” she says.
A public relations consultant, Alice doesn’t consider herself a “tree hugger,” but she does choose Green Mountain Energy as her provider, and likes the fact that her hybrid creates less exhaust, uses less energy, and protects the environment. “I think it’s right not to leave a bigger footprint than I need to,” she says.
Matthew Lents says that although he doesn’t see many other teenagers driving a Prius, it’s been the perfect car for high school.
“I love it! The acceleration isn’t mind-blowing, but it’s so roomy. My friends comment on all the headspace. You can also fold down the backseats,” he points out.
Matthew initially considered getting an SUV but decided on the Prius because of the surprisingly high gas mileage. With gasoline prices nearing $3 per gallon, he’s enjoyed getting up to 45 mpg on weekend road trips.
“In the city I get 35 to 40,” he says, “depending on my frustration level.” (Matthew confesses to having a lead foot at times.)
One unexpected aspect of the hybrid is what he calls the “audible silence.” The gas-powered motor shuts off when the car is at a stoplight and quietly continues running on battery power until the driver presses the accelerator again.
For Elaine Calaway, a psychologist at The Kinkaid School, buying a hybrid was more of a political statement.
“I feel good about wearing my politics on my sleeve,” she says. “When I first bought it, I had people stopping me. It speaks volumes.” And the good feelings don’t fade as quickly as a new car smell. “It’s a car I feel better and better about the longer I own it because it’s the best car I could be driving for the environment,” she says. “Gas prices aren’t coming down. I knew it was a smart purchase when I bought it.”
Elaine enjoys the fact that her 2005 black Prius is affordable, well made, and easy to maintain. And, she points out, with stars like Julia Roberts, Bill Maher, Cameron Diaz, and Leonardo DiCaprio behind the wheel of their hybrids, owning one has become somewhat of a status symbol.
This spring, Mayor Bill White announced his plan to lower fuel costs and clean up Houston’s air quality by adding more environmentally friendly vehicles to the city’s fleet. Wanting to be part of the solution himself, he and wife Andrea bought a hybrid, which he drives to work every day.
“Bill wanted an energy efficient car,” Andrea explains. “We’ve been extremely happy with our Prius. Bill’s bicycle fits in the back of it, which was one of his top criteria!”