Saturday, May 5, 2012

An Electric Rant

With gas at well over $4/gallon, a 120 mile/day commute and a car with 177,000 miles on it, it should be no surprise that I'm shopping for a new car. I've always loved cars - the engineering, the speed, the wind in your face and the g-forces as you accelerate fast, corner hard and brake even harder (like when you see the radar gun around that blind bend in the road). I fit right in with the Top Gear guys in England - I would give anything to be The Stig.

This is a very bad time to be a car nut. Engineers are making better cars than ever before - they look great, handle great, accelerate well and are vastly more comfortable and better built than any previous generation of cars. Sounds great, right? How could this possibly be a bad time to be car shopping??

Unfortunately, the other side of this wonderful time more than cancels the great work of those engineers.

Let's start with the promise of eliminating the high cost of gas with an electric or hybrid car. Most of the major car manufacturers now have hybrid models, and more all-electric cars are appearing. By far, the most popular car on the road in SoCal is now the Toyota Prius. Remember my praise of the looks, handling, acceleration and build quality of new cars? Yeah - forget that when talking about the Prius. They are butt-ugly. They accelerate like a hippo on a moped. The suspension is soft and the seats are hard & uncomfortable - and worst of all, they are just crappy little cars with poor fitting plastic and a cheap feel. If it wasn't for the "Hybrid" badge on the back, they wouldn't be able to sell 2 of those little turds a year.

But, you say, they are a Hybrid, so it's all worth it because of the great gas mileage, right??

The 2012 Prius is rated at 51 MPG city and 48 MPG highway. Hey that's pretty good! Right???

Well, yes - and no...

There is no question that the hybrid dramatically improves the MPG during city driving. The Toyota Yaris, the other small econobox from Toyota, is rated at 30 MPG city. If you drive primarily on city streets, a hybrid is a great choice - but who in SoCal drives only on city streets? On the highway, the Toyota Yaris is rated at 38 MPG. The Prius is certainly better, but the gap is much narrower. Let's do some math - if you drive 20K highway miles a year (that's well above average), and gas is $4.25/gallon (that's above the current average) and you drive a Prius, then you will use 417 gallons and spend $1,772 on gas. With the Toyota Yaris, you will use 526 gallons of gas and spend $2,236. The savings after 1 year is therefore $464. After 10 years (assuming the price of gas stays the same - admittedly very unlikely!) you will have saved $4,640. According to, a base model Prius with typical options sells for $24,711 and a base model Yaris with similar options is $15,838. That's a difference of $8,873!!! Factor in the additional interest cost if you finance the purchase, and the cost premium for buying a hybrid is even more.

Now, I think both the Toyota Prius and Yaris are crappy, ugly little cars. I want better! Go big or go home! Staying in the Toyota line, let's move up to the Lexus CT200H vs the Lexus IS250. Once again, city driving is no contest - the hybrid CT200H is rated at 35 MPG in the city compared to the IS250 rating of 19 MPG. On the highway, the CT200H is rated at 34 MPG and the IS250 at 28 MPG - a difference of only 6 MPG - and less than the difference between the Prius and Yaris. The savings in gas for the luxury hybrid works out to be $536, and the price difference between the two similarly equipped Lexus is $3,553. OK, so moving up to the premium line made the hybrid appear to be a bit more financially viable - but only because the total cost you are spending on your transportation is now much, much higher - and it's not like the hybrid is actually saving you very much more money - the savings is still very small compared to the price premium. In terms of performance, the hybrid shows it's real weakness - the CT200H does 0-60 in 8.7 seconds, while the IS250 can get there in 7.5 seconds. The IS250 also has better braking from 60-0 at 113 feet compared to the CT200H at 125 feet.

How about the new all electric cars? Good luck. The Nissan Leaf has a range of 73 miles. That's not a misprint - you need to charge the batteries every 73 miles. It will take 8+ hours to charge the car from a standard 110v electrical outlet. The price for that much inconvenience? $36,000 for a base model. But at least electric cars have excellent acceleration, right? Nope - the Nissan Leaf does 0-60 in 10 seconds, slower than a $15,000 Yaris. The Chevy Volt is one of the hot new electric cars - it is not a pure electric - it also has a small gasoline engine, so it is really a hybrid - but unlike the Prius, the Volt can be driven purely on electric power, and can be recharged from a electrical outlet, so it can be driven without using any fuel - as long as you only drive less than 50 miles between charges. Once you are out of battery juice, you will run entirely on the gas engine, and your mileage will be in the 30-35 MPG range. The cost of the Volt with typical options: $42,675!!!

Compare all of this nonsense to a nicely equipped "non-green" all-gas Hyundai Sonata. The Sonata looks good (to me), is very well built, very comfortable inside, handles well on the road and is quick - 0-60 MPH in 7.9 seconds. The Sonata's 2.4L engine is rated at 24 MPG city and 35 MPG on the highway. A typically equipped base model Sonata is a very affordable $20,635. That's over $4K less than the crap-box Prius. I'm sorry - I love the planet and all, but I am NOT going to be sucked-in to the marketing hype and eco-pressure to buy an over-priced, under-performing and ugly little smug machine like the Prius, and I would much rather spend 10 minutes at the gas pump rather than wait 8+ hours for my batteries to recharge so I can go get a gallon of milk.

And that's the real problem for car lovers today. We have to look like social misfits just to make the sound, logical decision of NOT buying a hybrid or electric car. I'm tired of listening to co-workers who think they made a great decision in buying a Prius, and I'm REALLY tired of having to weave my way through the sea of smug Prius drivers poking along on the freeway with no concern for getting the hell out of the way of people who have chosen to drive a car that doesn't need to plod down the road like a hippie microbus on the way to a Grateful Dead concert.

I think I'll wait for this to be the electric car I can buy...


For all you Prius drivers out there - do me a favor - look in your rear view mirror occasionally, and if you see me back there, get the hell out of the way!!! Thank you.

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