Last summer I wrote about Nevada City Councilmember David McKay and his purchase of a Ford Escape hybrid vehicle. Shortly thereafter, computer engineer and consultant Nicholas George contacted me about his experience with and knowledge of hybrid vehicles and their gasoline counterparts. George and I spoke recently about his Toyota Yaris and the Toyota Prius he used to drive, alternative transportation and the environment.
"In my opinion, driving a motor vehicle is a last resort, for use only when bicycling, walking, public transportation and ride-sharing will not do," George said. "But because many of us live in housing that was not designed with ease-of-transportation in mind, when we do drive a motor vehicle, driving a fuel-efficient, reliable and reasonably low environmental impact vehicle is good citizenship."
In an attempt to be a good global citizen, George bought a new 2004 Toyota Prius a few years ago, expecting to get the high mileage advertised for that vehicle while reducing his impact on the environment. But, after two years of driving the Prius hybrid, George traded it in for a Toyota Yaris, which utilizes a piston-driven, gasoline-powered engine.
"I was seeking high miles-per-gallon," George says of the switch, "but I was also seeking high return-on-the-dollar investment. In Nevada County driving, which doesn't include stop-and-go and which doesn't include high-speed freeway driving, I was getting a mere 45 miles per gallon." George said that for half the price of the Prius ($25,000+), he could drive a new Yaris ($12,500) that got 40 mpg, was less complex to own, didn't involve the unknowns of recycling and would last longer.
According to the latest mpg estimates issued just this week by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), hybrid vehicle mpgs have been lowered to more realistically reflect how those vehicles perform (www.fueleconomy.com). For example, the old EPA mpg rating on the 2007 Toyota Prius was 60city/51hwy, for a combined total of 55 mpg. The new numbers are 48/45, with a combined total of 46 Ð a 20/12% drop in efficiency. The Yaris has dropped from a combined 37mpg to 32mpg, according to the new figures. The Honda Civic hybrid has dropped from 50 to 42 combined mpg, while the Honda Accord hybrid dropped from 31 to 27 combined mpg (ironically the same numbers apply to the Ford Escape 4WD SUV).
"The key to the Yaris' high fuel economy is not exotic," George says. "It's built with conventional materials, it doesn't have expensive batteries that need to be recycled, it simply is a well-crafted automobile that's no bigger than it needs to be, no heavier than it needs to be, and, if driven sensibly, will really achieve 40 mpg in Nevada County, which I have proved every week."
George, an ex-SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) competitor, utilizes his knowledge of things like aerodynamics to increase his vehicle's fuel economy. His side mirrors fold in, decreasing the side drag when driving at high speeds and increasing his fuel economy by at least one mpg. He also uses the air conditioning sparingly, uses a windshield reflector when parked on hot summer days, accelerates slowly from a stop, coasts downhill in neutral and uses anticipation, wind and rolling resistance to keep actual braking to a minimum, all of which add to his overall fuel savings.
With an eye on the future, George says we need to think about what generations to come will be doing for transportation. Driving less and using more fuel-efficient vehicles is at least part of the answer.
"It's far better to walk or ride a bicycle," says George, a bicycle commuter and member of two bicycle clubs in Nevada County, "but, when I have to drive, it's best to save as much fuel as I can, and, if I can do that while also maximizing the return on my own dollar investment, it's better for me personally, as well as being better for the environment."