Dr. Forbush Thinks

Look at the world through the eyes of Dr. Forbush. He leads you through politics, religion and science asking questions and attempting to answer them....

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Location: California, United States

Friday, October 08, 2004

Toyota Prius

My car was in the shop this week. Therefore I needed to rent a car in order to perform my normal functions, like go to work and go home again. When I went to the car rental place I asked for an economy car, because the rates are usually cheapest and I really care what I drive in to and from work. To my surprise they had a Toyota Prius for me. Many of you may not know this, but the Prius is a hybrid car. This means that it has an electric motor and a gasoline engine in it. The point of having the two engines is that energy created by the gasoline engine can be stored in a battery and the battery can power the car as well. This may sound complicated, but the main point is that the MPG (Miles per Gallon) for the Prius is around 50.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got into the car. First of all the car doesn’t use a traditional key. Instead it is an electronic key and a big round power button on the dashboard. When the key is inserted into the holder and the power button is pressed the lights and computer inside the car come on. That’s right there is a large computer screen sitting on the dashboard of the car. But there is no sound of an engine starting, because it is in electric mode at first. When you put the car into reverse the car makes that annoying truck backing-up noise. But, the noise seems to be inside the car only. This may be the worst part of the car, because the rest of the story is so positive.

Once you start driving the computer screen can display the current MPG that the car is getting as you drive. This is quite interesting, but you need to remember that you are driving a car so keep your eyes on the road. By using the MPG monitor you can learn how to best drive in order to conserve gasoline. On another panel on the computer you can monitor how the car is using the electric and gasoline motors. It turns out that both the electric and gasoline motors can be and are used at the same time. In this way the gasoline engine can produce fast starts, and the electric motor can be used to keep the car moving at a constant rate of speed. The gasoline motor also charges the battery.

What this all means is that I was able to get 57 MPG going to work on one day and 52 MPG coming home one night. Apparently I drive uphill as I go home, because I consistently got lower MPG going home in the evening. This also means that I only used 10 gallons of gas this week compared to about 23 gallons of gas on a normal week. At $2.00 a gallon I saved $46.00 dollars this week. And if I were to purchase one of these I could save over $200.00/month (because I do some driving on the weekends as well.)

Imagine that if they put this same technology in a mini-van one could get over 40 MPG. Or, if one were to put it into an SUV one could get over 30 MPG. And for all the skeptics out there I drove between 70 and 75 mph each way as I usually do, and the acceleration is great.