Hybrids offer bang for the buck

Gas prices hover around $4 a gallon. They don’t seem to be going down anytime soon. No news there.

Coastal Point • Monica Fleming: The Toyota Prius offers great gas mileage and better performance than previous versions. The wait is long if you want to get one, so the Coastal Point offers you tips for other gas friendly automobiles.Coastal Point • Monica Fleming
The Toyota Prius offers great gas mileage and better performance than previous versions. The wait is long if you want to get one, so the Coastal Point offers you tips for other gas friendly automobiles.

What is news is the absolute influx of people trying to get rid of their less than desirable guzzlers in exchange for something smaller, something cheaper, something that uses less gas.

Enter the Toyota Prius. Still very much in demand and reportedly, the best seller of all hybrid cars combined. With a combined city/ highway mpg of 46, it’s a hard car to beat in the way of trying to make your gas money go further.

The Prius was introduced to the United States in 1999, was completely redesigned in 2004 with the revolutionary Hybrid Synergy Drive technology, and has been ranked on Car and Driver’s “Ten Best Cars,” (2003) Motor Trend’s Car of the Year (2003); ‘Safest Small Car’ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (2006) and ranked 3rd “Greenest Vehicle” sold in the U.S. by the American Council for Energy Efficient Economy (2005) and included on the “Greener Choices of 2006” list compiled by the same council.

The Prius is a Super Ultra Low Emission vehicle and uses less fuel than the most efficient disel car and emits 95 percent less carcinogens into the atmosphere. The second generation Prius is 25 percent faster because a new boost converter turns the battery’s 200 volts of DC output into 500 volts of AC power to the motor. Also, the new battery design weighs 29 pounds less than the original version.

According to Toyota, the Hybrid Synergy Drive system offers better environmental performance and high performance traits that make it perform just like a conventional vehicle.

“Hybrid Synergy Drive uses a high voltage converter with voltage-boost capability. This makes it possible raise battery voltage to drive the motor/generator, which at the same time raises motor output and allows a lighter, smaller battery. In making the transition to a hybrid powertrain, the alternator, power steering pump, water pump and AC compressor are no longer engine belt driven, they are driven electrically,” according to toyaota.com. This can happen because the engine shuts down when the car is stopped or driven slowly. When driven normally, the engine generates power and it is distributed in two ways: one is used to drive the generator which drives the electric motor and the other is used to drive the front wheels. This two part split system allows for maximum efficiency. The car does not plug-in, rather, this two–part system allows the engine to be charged while driving.

Needless to say, it’s still not easy to find one. Unless you are willing to wait on a list, the Prius is still very much out of reach for the average consumer.

And this is not to say that the Prius is the only hybrid car out there — it’s not. Toyota also offers a Highlander seven-seater hybrid, and Camry hybrid, the Honda Civic has a Hyrid version, there are Nissam Altima hybrids (Nissan has licensed the Toyota hybrid technology) and the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid to name a few. Although the Tahoe, named Green Car Journal’s 2008 Green Car of the Year, has risen its fuel economy 30 percent it still tops out at a “paltry” 22 mpg highway, half than that of the Prius.

According to BusinessWeek, hybrids are likely to save owners money over the course of the first five years of ownership — no surprise the Prius was found to be the most cost-effective of all.

So, for many people, who are in the position of wanting a Prius but can’t wait on a list for the ‘green’ aspect of the hybrid technology, as is happening as the Prius maintains its popularity, but who are driven by a balance of fuel efficiency and cost effectiveness, there are plenty of high mileage gasoline-fueled cars around.

For instance, Pohanka Automotive Group of Salisbury carries eight of the ten cars named on Newsweek.com’s Top Ten Most Fuel Efficient list: the aforementioned Toyota Prius at 48 city/45 highway; Honda Civic Hybrid at 40 city/45 highway; Toyota Yaris at 29 city/25 highway; Toyota Corolla at 28 city/27 highway; the Honda Fit at 28 city/34 highway; the Nissan Versa at 26 city/31 highway; the Honda Accord LX at 21 city/31 highway and the Mazda MX-5 Miata at 22 city/27 highway. For the green minded, the company also boasts in house recycling programs for its employees and recycles everything from used motor oil to antifreeze to print cartridges to the water at their phosphate-free soap car wash.

In addition to the better fuel-efficient cars which are in demand, according to general manager Paul Eaton, of Ocean View, Pohanka Automotive wants consumers to know that Pohanka is in the coastal community. A new sponsor to the annual Taste of Coastal Delaware, Pohanka has many team members from the area. As they are as conscious of $4-a-gallon as the next guy, Eaton wants people to know that people don’t have to settle for buying a car at a closer dealership if they know what they want. “If they want a Honda, but they don’t want to drive 45 minutes each way for an oil change, we’re here, even if that means valeting your car [back and forth]. We have many team members in the Ocean View/Bethany area that do that as a service to their community.”

And there’s not a price you can put on that. Well, other than 40 miles to Salisbury at 21 miles per gallon at $4 per gallon…

For more information on any of the top-rated fuel-efficient cars mentioned, including the Toyota Prius Hybrid, visit www.pohanka.com.