Thursday, April 12, 2012

Prius: The Moron Litmus Test

Ah the Toyota Prius.  The quintessential poster child of the green movement.  Sell your Honda Accord and get one of these eco-miracles and you'll save money and the environment!  Right?

Actually not so much... 

I'll ignore the environmental damage created when a vehicle is produced - although that's an important factor.  Imagine if you only owned one car your entire life:  How many tons of plastic, rubber, metals, etc. would have never been extracted from the earth and refined into a useful form?  You could buy a 1950's car today, complete with it's 8 mpg, drive it the rest of your life, and still cause less pollution than you did by just purchasing and driving a new hybrid off the dealer lot.  But we're ignoring this.

I'll also ignore how our tougher emissions standards have ruined fuel economy.  While the rest of the developed world concentrates on CO2 emmisions in their vehicles, the US still focuses on NOX and CO for its emissions testing.  All of our work to lower NOX and CO actually indirectly increases CO2 emissions, which if you believe the climate change people, is exactly what we should be focusing on.  The UK has several small diesel and petrol cars that get upwards of 50 and 60 mpg - even when you factor in the conversion for imperial gallons and the less realistic mpg tests across the pond.

But it's all about fuel economy right?  Being green is just an added bonus to the green I get to keep in my pocket!  Well in an ideal world, the Prius gets maybe 50 mpg.  This of course assumes that you drive it very efficiently, which is something most people don't do.  Top gear UK had an interesting test where they had a Prius on their track being driven as fast as the driver could go.  Following behind was a 500hp BMW M3 with a turbocharged V8.  The BMW only needed to keep up with the Prius.  End result: The Prius averaged 17mpg, the BMW; 19mpg.  It's not what you drive, it's how you drive it.

But lets take that ideal Prius with it's 50mpg and MSRP of $25,000.  Let's also say your currently driving an older SUV and getting a dismal 15mpg.  Gas isn't quite $5/gallon yet but let's give the Prius an edge and say that it is.  You will have to drive 107,000 miles just to break even on your purchase!  107,000 miles of losing money.  Doesn't sound too awful I suppose right? 

Same scenario, but this time you have a more typical car that gets 20mpg.  You'll need to drive that Prius 150,000 miles to save the $25k you spent on it.  Based on their construction, I'm pretty sure they won't last that long without having some issues.  It just keeps getting worse as the comparison cars get better.  I'll stop here since most passenger cars get at least 20 mpg these days.  It's a safe assumption that if you get over 20 mpg on your current car, then the Prius won't survive long enough to pay for itself.

But here's where it gets really bad - compare the Prius to cheap, new commuter cars.  Take the 40mpg Kia Rio for example:  Replacing that 15mpg gas hog with this, and at $13,600 it will pay for itself in 65,000 miles.  Ah-ha!  But the Prius still gets better gas mileage than the Rio so eventually it will still be the better buy!  Think so?  Every time you see a Prius I want you all to think of this:  To go 1000 miles, that Prius uses $25 more in gas than the Rio but costs twice as much.  The Rio paid for itself in 65,000 miles, the Prius in 107,000.  But the Rio is still saving gas after 65,000 miles and now its in the black while the Prius is still working to pay itself off.  Get this - you'd have to drive another 456,000 miles before that Prius finally gets an edge.  That's 521,000 miles on the odometer before the Prius owner can finally pat themselves on the back and truly consider themselves making money at the pump!

Prius vs. motorcycle:
So why all this hybrid talk on a motorcycle blog?  Well my wife's little DR200 got me thinking about it.  Many folks have managed to get 100mpg on these little things with street tires and taller gearing.  In stock form with an average sized rider, 80 is easily attainable.  It's not just the DR either.  Many smaller bikes get 80+ mpg.  Heck even my gas-hungry 400 dirt bike on knobby tires gets 50 mpg without even trying.  Using one of the 80 mpg bikes, and our purchase price of just under $2000, it will have paid for itself every 7,400 miles compared to that gas-guzzling SUV. 

But what if you already bought into the hybrid hype?  Well using the same numbers as before, you could sell that Prius and get an 80 mpg bike.  At $2000 and 30 mpg better over the hybrid, you'd pay for the bike in a short 12,000 miles.  That's about the average mileage a car sees in a year.  Even if you didn't ride the bike when it was raining, or cold, or whatever the excuse was that day, you're still going to break even in under 2 years with reasonable use.

So hybrid cars:  Saviors of the earth or glorious examples of people's inability to comprehend basic math?  I'd say its obvious but I can't drive 2 miles without seeing at least one Prius.

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