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The September 2008 Car Update

By Steve Jones,

Those batteries in my Prius have some people worried since there were early reports of them being expensive to replace. Here's an alternative technology that might help with lower cost Lithium-Ion batteries. I've seen plenty of people that say replacement costs are about $3500 and Toyota warranties the batteries for 8 years or 100,000 miles, so I'm not worried.

We haven't had to replace batteries, but over the last couple months we have had to do some maintenance on the Prius. The 30k service ($285) was fine, replacing a few filters, adjusting alignment, flushing fluids, etc. and we also had to replace the tires. The stock ones that come with the car aren't great and they've been getting low. One actually blew on my wife and I helped her change it to a tiny, small spare that's not really made for driving beyond the next tire station. I went ahead and replaced all 4 that day with some Yokohama tires.

I think the biofeedback I get is great. Seeing how my mpg is changing in the Prius changes the way I drive, and not just in the Prius. Those mechanical habits developed by noticing the impact on gas mileage have me coasting more and being careful in our truck and my sports car. I'm not sure if it's making a difference, but I think that's a great feature for all new cars to put in them. I might make it more central on the car, maybe need the speedometer, but getting real time and tank feedback helps me drive more efficiently.

Someone asked me at the gym a few weeks ago if I'd buy a hybrid again. He was thinking about one and was interested in what I thought. I spent about 5 minutes chatting with him about what I saw for the pluses and minuses and said I'd get one again. But mostly because I drive 95% of the time below 55mph and we drive a lot. It's paid off well for us, but might not for other people, especially those that go less than 10,000 miles a year.

However it seems many people are going back to small cars, which might not make much difference for any one person, but can add up across the entire economy. If you are interested, there's a green section on the Kelley Blue Book site.

I don't think this report (Every New Car Will Be a Hybrid by 2020) will come to fruition, but someone at Chrysler gets it, saying most, if not all, cars will run on electric motors. I've seen a few reports, but they're looking at all-electric cars, or at least electric motors that power the wheels. To me this is a no brainer. Electric motors are incredibly powerful, just look at the large locomotives that pull huge loads (electric motors recharged be diesel engines) and the Tesla roadster. We're good at generating electricity and using it to get work done. Once we put those in cars, we get then generate the electricity from any source: gas, diesel, solar, fuel cells, nuclear, who cares. With a diesel electric, maybe even my friend, Bob, up in Alaska will think about one!

Make the cars more agile and we'll be in better shape, though I'm not sure it's worth it yet to convert my Prius to a plug-in.

Hydrogen might get there, but there have been problems with infrastructure and I think it's a chicken-and-egg issue. Not enough cars can use it, so it's not worth big investments in fueling stations. The economics always matter, so we have to make this a transition over the next few decades. I'd like to see us move to plug-in fuel cells, with stations or even stores stocking them as replaceable items like Propane BBQ cylinders. We pull the used ones out of our car, replace with a new one from the store.

In any case, things are changing, with even the Le Mans race organizers pushing the racers to go green, and experiment with alternative fuels and technologies. Surprisingly the Corvette team is looking to race with E85 this season. While ethanol might not be everyone's choice, I'm glad people are experimenting with it.

Steve Jones

The Prius Update

Mileage appears to be the same as I expect, getting 52-54 in the summer, about 44-47 in the winter. Winters are relatively short here in Denver, so I'd guess over the year we're doing about 50mpg year round. I don't have numbers from early on, but

Steve Jones

Prius Stats

Months owned Mileage Avg MPG (current month) Conservative savings (Prius 48, van 20, gas US$3.90) Realistic savings (Prius 50, van 18, gas US$3.90)
18 33,300 52 (for Sept) $3,391 $4,010

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