Tuesday 20 August 2013

a green hybrid fling

The great American road trip, one of life's must-take journeys.

This summer my hubby and I could think of no better way to reacquaint ourselves with the land of our births than embarking on our own grand road trip of the lower 48. We were so excited to visit as many national parks, American sights and kitschy small-town USA cafes and shops as we could handle - and our tolerance is very high. And in America, with so many varying cultures thriving within her borders, and a brilliant Interstate highway system, a car really is the best way to explore.

America's love affair with cars began after the end of World War II, and throughout the 1950s this love expanded to incorporate hot rods, drive-in movies and drive-through restaurants, and Americans began to see their car as an extension of themselves, something adding to their identity. It was also during this decade that Eisenhower developed the concept of the Interstate highway system. Ultimately this love affair was enhanced by the suburbanisation of the nation, marked the beginning of the end of healthy inner-cities, and is responsible for 28% of America's total greenhouse gas emissions.

Thanks EPA for the statistics.

This meant we had to be very smart with our choice of road trip vehicle, especially with the distance we intended to cover!

At the start of our search I really Really REALLY wanted a Prius.  I mean, I'm the Sustainability with Style girl, what car is more sustainably stylish than the cute Prius hatchback?

But before we ran out and purchased the first Prius we came across, we did our eco-car homework to make sure we were getting the most ecologically-wise option on the market. I needed a life-cycle analysis of a hybrid versus electric versus diesel versus good fuel-economy 'regular' car - thank goodness for the LCA practitioners out there. . .

After reviewing many technical reports, I felt very comfortable selecting a hybrid vehicle. The latest LCA for vehicles suggests that electric vehicles have a slight advantage assuming a decent mix of renewable energy is used to charge the battery (this report from June 2012 is based on California's bill AB 32 that mandates 33% renewables in the energy mix by 2020), but since the vast majority of the miles on my car would come all at once on a road trip, where I would not have reliable charging stations at my disposal, let alone renewable energy charging, a hybrid seemed like the easy choice.

The next decision was also easy - it had to be pre-loved. No need to generate emissions and use new materials creating a brand new car just for me. Not to mention the cos savings! Thankfully there were plenty of Priuses (or is the plural Prii?) available at the Toyota dealer as certified used vehicles just coming in from lease, so I literally had my pick of the lot.

Sandy and I at Albion Basin, Utah before a hike.
And now, at the end of our great American road trip, and we've clocked over 11,000 miles in two months in our pal Sandy the Prius, and seen so many amazing sights and met so many lovely people.

But the eco-stats . . .

On average, with the car piled with luggage and camping gear, Sandy achieved great fuel economy of 47 miles per gallon (MPG). This number gets higher when we're driving without the luggage or when we're driving at slower speeds, say through Yellowstone National Park, where we averaged 54 MPG. I found a delightful webpage on FuelEconomy.gov which calculated for me how much money I saved in gas (or petrol) compared to a similar non-hybrid vehicle. Drumroll please . . .   

We've saved $581 in our first two months of Prius-ownership! That's a few sustainable fashion pieces right there, not to mention carbon offsets to make up for my travel habit.

Now that we're back in California for a little while, I hope to park Sandy for days at a time and limit my driving. I'll keep you updated on maneuvering public transportation in one of the most congested, car-loving states I know.

I'd love to know if you've had similar or different experiences buying and driving a hybrid or electric vehicle - drop me a line or tweet me about it @lisa_heinze.


PS - There is good news, with reports this year finding that car ownership is on the decline and people are generally driving less in this country, a trend that began even before the recession. Here's hoping public transportation can keep up!

PPS - Here's another great resource outlining various types of alternative fuels coming into the marketplace

PPSS - And here is a wonderful resource with many other links about different types of environmentally-friendly vehicles and fuel sources (thanks to some readers for sharing this one!)


  1. Be careful of hybrids. The processes and chemicals used to create the batteries and then dispose of them at the end of their life make them the most polluting cars on the planet. Batteries last ~10 years and then cost a fortune to replace and dispose of correctly.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Sisi. I too had heard of hybrid batteries being very polluting, which is why I read the LCA reports comparing the entire life of each type of car and its components to be reassured that buying a hybrid wasn't a bunch of greenwash. Also, Toyota (and most other hybrid manufacturers) are continuously improving the length of the life of the batteries, testing batteries well past 150,000 miles without losing performance in the battery, expecting them to last the reasonable life of the car. Toyota has also had a recycling program in place since 1998 to recycle every element of the batteries.
      No car is perfect, that's for certain, but things are getting better. And in the meantime, I still love public transportation :)

  2. Hello Lisa,
    Thank you for your nice sharing. The car was good and looked like a flying bird. But be careful in used it.

  3. Thanks Lisa for giving such a great discussion on this topic. You and your hubby both have done a good research on environmental pollution and figured out something really valuable. Yes, hybrid cars can a good option to prevent the environmental pollution up to some extent. The major amount of hazardous emission is due to diesel vehicles. Therefore for the sake of environmental safety and to preserve some fuel for our future generation, it is better to switch to the hybrid cars. Smart Car service Charleston SC.