Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Save Gas, Save the Planet: John Addison’s book about hybrid and electric cars, pathways to low carbon driving, and the future of sustainable transportation. © 2009 John Addison. All rights reserved.
Smiles Per Gallon
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference.”
-Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
The Eubank family was interested in replacing one of their SUVs with a fuel-efficient car. In their energy-efficient home, they reduced their carbon footprint and were rewarded with big savings in their electricity bill. Now it was time to take on the vehicles.
They considered everything from vehicles running on biofuel, to turbodiesels, to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, to plug-in hybrid conversion, to electric vehicles. Many of these vehicles had good fuel economy and range because they were lighter four- door sedans.
Safety and storage were major concerns in their decision. Like many families, the Eubanks wanted to do their part to help with energy independence from foreign oil. They also wanted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A typical SUV in the United States produces about 12 tons of CO2 emissions per year; a fuel-efficient hybrid only one-third that amount. The family saw a major opportunity to reduce its carbon footprint.
Bob liked the safety of their two SUVs. His safety concerns were increasing as his daughter, Meili, approached driving age. As a protective father, his first instinct was to get a Hummer, or at least an armored-plated Volvo station wagon. Meili, an “A” student who had written papers about the environment, liked the idea of an electric car. Her brother Tai, who also cared about the environment, said his favorite vehicle was his bicycle.
Weihong, as a busy mother and business owner, weighed practical issues such as having room for several people, school stuff, sports equipment, storage boxes for the business and more. Everything had to fit in a trunk to meet their demanding schedule of school drop-offs, pick-ups, business meetings, golf, and swim lessons. Because the family liked their hybrid Toyota Highlander SUV, they were interested in the Toyota Prius. They had talked to Prius owners who loved the hybrid car and achieved over 50 miles per gallon, but they were concerned about safety and storage.
The Eubanks realized they could use the larger Highlander for longer trips to carry more people and large items like skis, surfboards, or bicycles. The Prius would meet their normal daily needs, including carrying up to five people. Weihong carefully measured the space needed for two backpacks loaded with school books, a storage box, two sets of golf clubs, two sets of sports bags, and a normal load of groceries. Yes, they would all fit in the Prius’ trunk.
Bob and Weihong reviewed safety evaluations from sources such as Consumer Reports. Sedans, such as the Prius, scored high on safety due to dual front and side airbags, and high-scores in crash tests. Yes, you can find adaptive air-bag systems, anti-lock breaks, adjustable seat belts and other safety features in big and heavy SUVs. You can also find them in fuel saving four-door sedans.
But aren’t SUVs safer? “In stop and go commuter traffic, you’re more likely to get in a rear-end collision than any other crash type,” says David Zuby, Senior Vice President, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Vehicle Research Center. The Institute determined that the designs of seats and head restraints in 21 current SUV, pickup, and minivan models are rated good for protecting people in rear impacts, but those in 54 other models are rated marginal or poor. Big vehicles are not necessarily safe, and some of the safest vehicles are cars with better maneuverability.
The Eubanks’ research and test drive of a Prius resolved their safety concerns. The car scored well on air bags and crash tests. They liked optional safety features such as cruise control for driving at a safe speed, GPS for eyes-on-the road navigation, and a backup camera. They decided that the Prius was as safe as their SUV. In fact, when Meili starts driving, she may find it easier to maneuver than a large SUV.
The Eubanks now happily drive the Prius. In fact, they make every effort to put most of their miles on the hybrid car and leave their remaining SUV parked. Some weeks, this approach cuts their gas costs in half compared to their two-SUV approach. In two years, this family may replace their other SUV. As you will learn in the following chapters, their alternatives will be more exciting than ever.
Bob and Weihong are parents who want their children to have a great education, a childhood rich in opportunity, and positive experiences. They also want their children to have a secure future. Without sacrificing safety or vehicle needs, the Eubanks now live in better harmony with their values about energy security and being environmentally friendly.
The Eubanks have doubled their miles per gallon and tripled their smiles per gallon.
© 2009 John Addison. All rights reserved.