Friday, 13 June 2008

Toyota Prius

Some people have tremendous difficulty admitting when they’re wrong. We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve committed ourselves to an action or opinion and realised mid-flow that we’ve made a grave and embarrassing error, but generally a sense of logic and a few coarse strands of strong moral fibre allow us to make a dignified u-turn. Not all people are able to do this; imagine how galling it must have been for Hitler, hauling his troops across Poland and chanting to himself ‘don’t panic Addy, this’ll definitely end well’. Jade Goodie making poppadom jokes to an Indian actress. Bush stealing oil. The Ssangyong Korando. The continuing re-employment of Ant & Dec. Donald Trump’s haircut. People need to learn that it’s OK to admit to having made a bad decision – in the long run it’s far better to chalk it up to experience and move on than to persist with the error in the hope that people will mistake your belligerence for wisdom.

This is what all Toyota Prius drivers feel like. They believed the hype, they bought into the propaganda, they have sizeable ostrich egg on their faces. In the back of their minds is a troubling issue, growing from a niggling doubt to an unpleasant fist-sized tumour of regret that what they initially believed to be an environmental solution is actually just a huge and misguided mistake.

Studies have shown that on a lifetime scale (going from the point at which the car never existed, passing through the tooling and production of the car, its entire projected lifespan and its subsequent disposal) you might as well get yourself a Range Rover Sport and have yourself a bit of fun. How can this be so, you ask, when Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio insist on continually banging on about how it’s The Answer?

Let’s look at the batteries for a start. The Prius, you see, waves its green flag around on the basis that it’s a hybrid: it has a petrol engine for general driving and a couple of electric motors that cut in at low-speed or stop/start driving, as well as taking care of regenerative braking, powering the continuously variable transmission and so forth. In fairness, it’s a bloody clever system. But it’s not green. Sure, not having the engine running all the time will logically lower the emissions by whatever amount isn’t being produced when the engine would otherwise be on (if you see what I mean) and the electric motors aiding the petrol engine’s accelerative power lead it to be more efficient, but the real story is behind the scenes. Like I say, let’s take a peek at the batteries.

The nickel that is used in Prius batteries is mined in Sudbury, Ontario. The area surrounding this mining and smelting facility is occasionally used by NASA for testing their lunar rovers, as the nickel extraction process and the subsequent sulphur dioxide smokestack has turned the locality into the one place on earth that most resembles the surface of the moon. Toyota buys around 1000 tons of nickel from here each year, which is shipped all the way to Wales for refining. Then it gets shipped to China to be turned into nickel foam. Then it’s shipped to the battery plant in Japan. All told, the journey amounts to about 10,000 miles – and that’s just one part of the car. Factor in the distance involved in transporting your shiny new Prius to London and much of the piety of your purchase is lost. The carbon footprint is gargantuan.

The Sunday Times proved in a head-to-head test that the BMW 520d was significantly more efficient and economical than the Prius on a drive from London to Geneva. Evo showed it to be far inferior to the Fiat Panda 100hp in a similar test, and Auto Express ranked it a lowly tenth position in their fuel efficiency testing, showing it to be around 8mpg less efficient than the Citroën C4 HDi. Add to this the fact that the uninspiring styling could have come from the ham-fisted crayoning of a three year old, blind pedestrians have no chance of hearing it coming, the traction control system is rubbish and can’t cope with anything beyond light drizzle, and the unavoidable truth that every single person who’s bought one is an insufferable cunt, there really is no logical reason to have a Prius in your life. For an astonishing £22,000 you will have to live not only with the knowledge that you’ve made a bad decision, but also with the constant judgement of every other motorist. They won’t just think you’re a twat. They’ll know it.

For approximately half the price of a Prius, for example, you could get yourself a Suzuki Swift Sport. Your fuel economy will be better (much, much lighter car for a start, with no heavy nickel batteries to cart around), you’ll be having way more fun, petrolheads in the know will applaud your decision to buy a surprisingly competent underdog and, if your ecoguilt is still strong, you could spend the remaining £10k-odd on planting a forest or sponsoring a donkey sanctuary or something. Oh, and you won’t hate yourself. It’s win-win.

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