Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Mixed Messages

Is environmentalism a fad? If recent sales reports from Ford Motor Company are any indication, the answer is resoundingly affirmative.
I've long suspected that most environmentalists are just in it for the fashion. Advocates like Al Gore and Arianna Huffington talk about the need for Americans to stop burning petroleum, but personally prefer to travel in limousines and private jets. Although they claim to support renewable energy, residents of Martha's Vineyard (including environmentalists Walter Cronkite and Robert Kennedy Junior) are currently fighting a proposal to put a windmill farm smack dab in the middle of their unobstructed ocean view.
The latest fad to captivate the rich and hypocritical is the hybrid car. Environmentalist Larry David, actually made his Hybrid Toyota Prius famous by featuring it as a reoccurring character in the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Leftists treat these cars as if they ran on water, and weren't manufactured by huge multinational corporations. They repeat the unsubstantiated claim that hybrids get seventy miles per gallon. They talk about the glorious utopian future, when everybody drives one, and the planet starts cooling off. This despite the fact, that few even understand the technology involved.
What makes the hybrid unique, is two different engines under the hood: one electric, the other gasoline. By recycling the energy, normally burned off at the brakes, back into a battery; and using the electricity stored there to accelerate; the hybrid cars get a little better mileage than their all-gasoline counterparts (about 25% or 8 MPG).
But is the zeal for these vehicles fueled by a sincere concern for the planet? The Prius has been adopted by the left as the "it" car; as much a political statement as transportation. Nothing says, "I Vote Democrat!" more than having a Prius parked in your driveway. I think that Toyota could have sold their 2004 Prius with the Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker permanently affixed under the lacquer, and nobody would have noticed.
Perhaps, people drive hybrids not for their nominal efficiency but for the image. Cars, are traditionally status symbols, and the Prius might be no different. Especially since the car is highly popular in Los Angeles where the vehicle you drive often says more about you, than your resume and headshot.
Evidence of the Prius as a status car, is a recent report that Ford Dealers are overstocked with hybrid vehicles. Ford, which makes a Hybrid version of their popular Escape SUV, has only sold half of it's total manufacturing capacity. Ten percent of all the hybrid SUV vehicles built by Ford, are still sitting on the lots, and some of them have been there for over a year. These sales figures are absolutely lethargic compared to the Prius, which has an average turnaround of nine days (some dealers even have month long waiting lists). Strange that Ford cannot sell Escapes, but Toyota cannot keep Priuses in stock. (Stranger still, that environmentalists would prefer a car built by people who still eat whale-meat, rather than by people who love apple pie.)
I suspect the problem Ford is facing, is that the Hybrid Escape looks exactly like the regular gas guzzling Escape. Conversely the Toyota Prius, looks like nothing else on the road. When you drive a Prius, everybody knows you are driving a hybrid. In a Prius, you look like a caring, compassionate, intelligent, and concerned, citizen of the Earth. When you drive a Hybrid Escape, you still look just like every other red state, gun toting, knuckle dragging, flat earth, ditto-head, SUV driver. This is further evidenced by sluggish sales of Toyota's Hybrid Highlander SUVs, which look exactly like the standard Highlander SUVs.
You wouldn't think that Democrats would fall prey to the sin of vanity. Normally people on the left side of the aisle claim to be above materialist desires, and ascribe that activity to the Republicans. They often make jokes about how Republicans need cars that compensate for some Freudian inadequacy. Perhaps the hybrid is also a compensation for a deficiency, but a deficiency of conscience.
The popularity of the Prius obviously has more to do with keeping up appearances, than saving the environment. What better vehicle is there for Larry David to drive Laurie to the airport, while the private jet is getting fueled up for the trip to Martha's Vineyard?
Truthfully, it's impossible to live a modern lifestyle without impacting the environment. You can't have cars, computers, and air conditioned vegetarian restaurants, without putting CO2 into the atmosphere. I believe that every environmentalist, outside of Ted "Unabomber" Kaczynski, has some element of hypocrite in their blood.
Being a good Capitalist American, I do not care that environmentalists have found a car they really like. I do not begrudge anyone their right to a Prius any more than I would object to a middle aged man buying a red two-seat convertible. These are the kinds of choices that make America a great place to live. But I refuse to take any environmentalist seriously, who claims that their choice of vehicle puts them on the moral high ground.

Since appearing to be an environmentalist is more important than being one, I suggest a couple of inventions that are certain to be big money makers:

-A service that delivers a bin of clean recyclable bottles to your driveway every trash day. For just a couple bucks a month, you will get to throw all your recyclables into the trash, without having to endure the sorting or the shame. These recyclables will have all the labels removed and the bottles steam cleaned in an industrial facility. You will have cleanest recyclable bin on the block! Make your neighbors green with envy, by looking greener. Let them all think that you care about the earth more than they do!

-Shingles that look just like solar panels. These shingles look totally off-the-grid, and only cost a fraction of the price. Whereas a real solar roof can cost $50,000 or more, imitation solar shingles would sell for just a fraction more then their asphalt counterparts. An added benefit is that the imitation shingles would be made of organic materials, rather than toxic chemicals like arsenic and silicon that are required for real solar shingles, This will save you from the high toxic waste disposal fees required for real solar cells. So when the fad inevitably dies off, you can just toss them away.


  • The Ford hybrid doesn't offer significant mileage improvement.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:34 AM, March 26, 2006  

  • Anyon,

    Neither does the Prius. According to Popular Mechanics, (February 2005) it averages about 40 MPG. That's about the same mileage you could get with a VW Jetta Diesel, and only 5 MPG more than a straight gasoline Honda Civic.

    The Ford Escape Hybrid gets just under 30 MPG, quite respectable for an SUV.

    My point would have probably been clearer had I compared the Prius to sales of other Japanese hybrid Sedans:

    "Honda has also struggled in this area. The Accord hybrid has not sold well, and sales of the Honda Civic hybrid have been up and down with gas prices over the last few months."

    What's the problem with the Hondas? The Hybrid Civic gets almost identical mileage to the Prius (40 MPG, Popular Mechanics, February 2006) but looks just like the regular Civic; ditto for the Accord.

    If you want to sell a Hybrid, you need to make it look like a Hybrid, so it's easier to pick up the vegan chicks.

    By Blogger Tim Slagle, at 5:39 AM, March 27, 2006  

  • Quite an anemic amoebic rant.

    The first commenter succinctly states one BIG reason for the difference in Toyota Prius and Ford Escape hybrid sales. They're totally different TYPES of vehicles, and the Ford Escape doesn't come close to getting over the 40MPG threshold. Car buyers looking to make a national security and environmental impact are well-aware that buying an SUV, even a hybrid version, is detrimental to our long-term health.

    As for the PM article references in regard to Prius mileage... I've been driving a 2006 Prius for 6 months, now, and am averaging better than 45 MPG -- and I'm a very bad driver, and am almost never driving in optimum hybrid conditions. (i.e. < 23MPG)

    As for diesel comparisons, I was torn. A Prius and Jetta TDI get about the same mileage on the highway, with the Prius fairing better in city driving. I think either is a great choice, since both help get you/us over the 40MPG threshold. I opted for the Prius because of its all-electric possibilities, and in the hopes that Toyota will offer a "pluggable" upgrade option in the near future. I was equally tempted by the biodiesel possibilities of a TDI, but split the difference with my brother who'd picked up a Jetta wagon TDI a number of months before.

    Go hybrid, all-electric, diesel, biodiesel, human-powered, whatever. But please try to contribute to getting us over the 40MPG threshold, rather than dragging us down. In case you haven't noticed, we're running out of time.

    p.s. I'd really love to find a site that helps drivers estimate their actual contribution to fuel consumption and environmental damage. A simple MPG or carbon output figure for a car doesn't consider the actual miles driven, or quantity or quality of gas consumed.

    p.p.s. Good reading for those still deluded into chasing after fossil fuels around the globe, and killing whoever stands in the way:,3858,4864237-102275,00.html

    plooger as anonymous

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:50 AM, August 01, 2006  

  • plooger,

    Funny you should mention: "a site that helps drivers estimate their actual contribution to fuel consumption and environmental damage." A recent study indicates that when design, manufacturing, transportation, and disposal, are all factored in; a Prius consumes more energy per mile than a Hummer.

    You can get all they Gorey details here:

    By Blogger Tim Slagle, at 3:48 PM, August 16, 2006  

  • So then, big picture time. Which would be the better path, everybody drive a Hummer or everybody drive a Prius? Where should we go as a whole? Same course of oil dependence or lean away and support alternatives? I bought a Prius and drive a lot (20k a year) It didn't make economic sense in '04 but the gas savings now make it break even as fuel prices go up. (Surprise!)
    Cheap oil is about over, especially if you factor in the national secuity costs.

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