Toyota Prius Gets Hybrid Technology Right

In anticipation of escalating gas prices, we bought a Toyota Prius about a year and a half ago. It has proven to be the right vehicle at the right time. The hybrid technology of the Prius delivers on all levels. The more you know about the Prius hybrid, the more it seems like a brainy, nimble fish swimming circles around knuckleheaded, lumbering SUVs.

A hybrid utilizes two sources of power – gas and electric. Electric power assists in starting the vehicle, which saves tremendously on gas consumption and dramatically reduces engine emissions. Gas power assists in vehicle acceleration. The Prius operates on a system of energy recapturing. The electric battery recaptures energy from forward momentum and recharges itself whenever the vehicle is coasting or the brake pedal is applied. The gas motor operates on the familiar principle of a combustion engine. The two systems are seamlessly controlled by an onboard computer, so the driver is relieved of deciding between sources.

In heavy city driving, with constant stopping and starting, we are averaging an easy 45 miles per gallon. So far, we do not feel we have sacrificed anything for the benefit of higher fuel efficiency and lower emissions. The Prius is roomy inside. Passengers well over 6 feet tall say they are perfectly comfortable in the back seat. The radio and CD sound system is excellent. Engine power has not been an issue. There is ample acceleration for freeway onramps and those 18-wheel big rigs are easily outrun. We pass heavier 6 and 8 cylinder vehicles on uphill mountain roads. The Prius qualifies for priviliged commuter lane occupancy in many states, due to its low air emissions. Many employers, such as Bank of America and Google, offer their employees generous rebate incentives for purchasing hybrids. The hybrid battery carries a 10 year warranty in several states and no, you don’t ever plug it in.

There is much discussion about the extra cost of a hybrid in comparison with traditional all-gas vehicles. It must be said that less-than scrupulous dealers are contributing to such a misunderstanding. You will find that many dealers are taking advantage of the popularity and desirability of the new hybrids by hanging a lot of their own “extras” on these vehicles as a “take it or leave it” package. Such dealers install expensive anti-theft devices, pricey undercoating and similar gewgaws whether you want them or not. Try, if at all possible, to find a dealership that is willing to sell a hybrid as issued by the manufacturer.

Until American auto makers come up with their own hybrid that delivers as completely as the Prius, we will continue to hear disparaging reports about this technology in the domestic press. Current U.S. attempts at incorporating the technology have resulted in what are termed “false” hybrids. In such vehicles, the electric motor kicks in only to enhance performance and it does not fully utilize the energy recapture concept. It is, in essence, a squandering of hybrid technology. Toyota is one of the only manufacturers to package the “true” hybrid system correctly.

Not only did Toyota package the “true” hybrid system correctly, the manufacturer intends to improve upon it. By 2008, it is expected that Toyota will move from the current nickel based battery to a lighter lithium ion based battery. Such technology will easily allow 95 miles per gallon according to the experts. That is thinking ahead.

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