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New thrill: Life in the green lane

By: M.V. Moorhead

May 12, 2007

New car time has come around again. Sigh. My wife and I had been interested in hybrid technology for a couple of years, but we had felt the cars that employ it were a little pricey for our budget, especially since we’re now in the process of trying to adopt a kid from China.

Besides, both of our vehicles — a ‘99 Toyota Corolla and a bare-bones 2000 Toyota Tacoma pick-up—were paid off, free and clear, and we had gotten pleasantly accustomed to the absence of a car payment from our monthly expenses.

Of course, both vehicles had come to look like junk—my Tacoma, most notably, is missing its front bumper. But they both ran like the proverbial tops, and had given us next to no trouble over the years since we bought them new.

So we more or less resolved that our next car would be a hybrid, but that we wouldn’t take that leap until we had finished beating our current rides like rented mules.

Then, one evening about two months ago, I had just finished filling the wife’s Corolla with gas, and I reached for the plastic door handle to get in. Perhaps the handle was defective, or perhaps my subconscious resentment at paying current Arizona prices for a few gallons of petrol gave me Incredible-Hulk-like strength and rage (I rather like the idea of the second theory).

In any case, the door-pull snapped off in my hand. Only after fumbling and grumbling for a few minutes did I establish that I could work my fingers up under inner part of the handle, pry it forward and open the door.

This new procedure for entering the car was quickly and colorfully declared unsatisfactory by my wife. But the car, alas, was no longer under warranty, and a local import-car specialist broke it to me that repairing this problem would require removing the door, and would thus cost more than $200.
My wife and I then made the mistake of watching Chris Paine’s remarkable film Who Killed the Electric Car? on DVD.

This straightforward documentary chronicles GM’s introduction, in California, of an electric vehicle, the EV1, and the almost simultaneous undermining of the model, ending with every specimen of the car being rounded up from the customers that had leased and in many cases loved them (almost all of the cars were subsequently destroyed).

By the time the film was over, I was in a half-homicidal rage at our country’s latter-day commitment to timidity and mediocrity.

My wife wasn’t much calmer—she just quietly noted that if there were a Toyota dealership open at 10 o’clock on a Monday night, she’d be buying a Prius right then.

So this past Friday, we made the leap and traded in the Corolla, broken door handle and all, on a “Package 2” Prius, “Silver Pine Mica” (goldish/greenish/silver) in color.

From its “smart key” to its energy monitor to its rear-view video, it’s by far the most technically fancy, Star-Trek-ish car I’ve ever owned.

At this point we’ve still driven it very little but my early review of it is a big thumbs up. It handles nimbly, has some get-up, and looks pretty. So far, our only major complaint is the not-so-hot visibility out the narrow rear windshield; that’s going to take some getting used to.

It’s still too early for us to know how well we’ll do with regard to emissions and gas mileage, but obviously we’re excited to find out.

But it’s this issue, above all, that perplexes me about the American responses to electric or hybrid technology. Why can’t we get jazzed up about kicking the oil habit? Is it the machismo, the implied potency that has somehow become associated with internal combustion?

I worry about global warming, and I consider myself at least a moderate tree-hugger, but I don’t see why either is necessary to be enthusiastic about a car that slashes our fuel expenses.

Why are we so committed to giving our money to the Saudis, or to rotten U.S. oil companies?

By the way, a few days after our purchase, came the inevitable:
We started seeing TV ads offering terrific savings on our model Prius. Sigh.


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