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Car Update – Electric plug in survey and algae hybrids

The Prius is having a few issues. I’ve had a slow leak in a tire that required two trips to the tire guy to get fixed. It wasn’t so bad since I had to get an oil change as well. I combined a few trips and things worked out well.

I ran into this survey that said half of US citizens would buy a plug-in electric hybrid, or consider one. That’s interesting to me as a hybrid owner. It’s worked out well for me, but it was more an economic decision for us living in the country, with relatively good weather. We drive a lot, and the 50mpg has helped us.

My last tank of gas, with the kids watching, got us to 482mi, with about 9.3 gallons of has. It averaged out at almost 52mph (51.8), which is pretty cool. Especially as we crossed 50,000 miles this month on the Prius. That’s 50,000 in 25 months, quite a lot of driving! A lot of commuting from the country to kids’ schools and even ski trips. I bet half my trips to the mountains last year were in the Prius. Saving fuel, money, and enjoying myself.


The survey above also surveyed people why they weren’t interested. Almost half (45%) listed that they weren’t sure about the technology. I think that’s interesting because the Prius has been around since 2001. While it has matured, a lot of people don’t trust it. I have a friend, who works for the city of Denver. He heard from a friend that all the Prius’ purchased by the city were being sold because of maintenance. He said that in 3 years they needed to have their batteries replaced as a recommendation from the manufacturer.

Hogwash. I can’t convince him it’s not true, even with my owner’s manual. I think his friend (and likely him) have a thing against the idea for some reason. I have a 2nd gen Prius, 2004-2007 age, and my manual doesn’t say anything like that. I’ve seen lots of people putting 200k miles (reportedly ) on their cars before replacing the hybrid batteries.

There’s also a lot of stink about the batteries being polluting and worse for the environment than a Hummer. I can’t believe it. It seems that some people are just upset for no good reason. Maybe they just want big cars, or more power. The batteries are mostly recyclable, as is most of the car. I know these are figures from Toyota, and might be cooked, An argument from Bad Templeton, and an interesting rebuttal as well in the first comment is worth reading.

I’m not sold that hybrids are the answer for the long term, or that they work for everyone, but they’re not horrible cars that break down all the time either.

There’s a cross country tour, using a hybrid that runs on a renewable fuel made from algae underway now. They’re driving from San Francisco to New York in 10 days, stopping in various cities. They go to Salt Lake City, and Cheyenne, but skip Denver. I would have gone to see it, so I’m a little disappointed.

The idea of using a renewable fuel made from algae is great, but I’m a little skeptical that they aren’t saying how much energy is needed to produce the fuel. Ethanol seems OK, but it isn’t necessarily the most efficient way to produce fuel.

However it’s another area of research, which is good to see. The more things we try, the more likely we are to find a good, renewable alternative.

The Voice of the DBA

Steve Jones is the editor of SQLServerCentral.com and visits a wide variety of data related topics in his daily editorial. Steve has spent years working as a DBA and general purpose Windows administrator, primarily working with SQL Server since it was ported from Sybase in 1990. You can follow Steve on Twitter at twitter.com/way0utwest


Posted by Merrill Aldrich on 15 September 2009

I'm glad this is working for you: but 25,000 miles per year! At bottom it's hard to argue the "green" side of that much driving, no matter the vehicle. This might seem unfriendly, but we're all technically minded engineering types and I have to put this out there.

There's other arithmetic around pollution and fuel consumption and hybrids: I have a normally-propelled Mazda that I bought in 1998; the car has 80,000 miles on it now, so that's an average of about 7,200 miles per year. I get around 28 mpg. That means that in ten years I consumed about 72,000 / 28 ~= 2600 gallons of gas and put that much pollution into the air, plus sponsored the production of one car with all that energy consumption and material.

Had I driven a hybrid 25,000 miles per year, even at 52 mpg, I would have consumed about 4,800 gallons of gas in that time, almost twice as much. I would also probably have burned through two or three cars (250,000 miles is a lot for any car) instead of still owning one car with a lot of life left in it.

In fact, I could have driven a gas guzzler of about any variety that got over 14 mpg, and I would have the greener track record, plus not have sponsored the production of a second or third vehicle. Examples of cars that would work: Chevolet Avalanche, Porsche 911 Turbo, Nissan GTR, Mercedes ML350 ... I would not necessarily want to own all those cars, but it illustrates the mathematics. OK, maybe I WOULD like the Porsche ...

Posted by Steve Jones on 15 September 2009

You're somehow assuming that everyone should drive xx miles per year. There are people that drive more than me, and that's 25k that covers the majority of our family driving. We have other cars that probably account for another 5-6k miles.

Arguing that people shouldn't drive the way they do is not a good argument, in my mind. We don't make a lot of unnecessary trips, but every trip I take accounts for 20 miles or more. If I extend your argument, should we not allow people to live where they want? Should everyone live in a dense suburb, or in apartment buildings so we can be efficient?

The idea is that we become more efficient, and where possible, eliminate wasted items. Not that I, or anyone else, should conform to your idea of how many miles we're allowed to drive.

Posted by Merrill Aldrich on 15 September 2009

I'm not talking about allowing or not allowing anything; I firmly believe people's freedom of choice is their right. It just seems to be too simple to forget that the most ecological and economical thing to do in most cases is simply to drive less. The most ecological thing to do with any car is typically to park it, not to replace it.

It's often (not for everyone) a much more effective action than keeping the same habits and funding another car, even a more efficient car. No, no one should be *forced* to move closer to work; but if one is genuinely interested in ecology, it seems natural that one would do that. No one should be forced to choose a smaller condo over a big freestanding house in the suburbs, but the owner of such a house does have a hard time pitching his commitment to environmentalism. Even with "green" countertops. I have some friends that are in their late 50's and _have never owned a car_. Ever. I couldn't do that -- but their environmental argument certainly has cred. I have to give them that. They are perfectly happy; they just live near public transit and a grocer, and rent a car a few times a year.

Environmentalism is hard, complex math, math that I think we have to follow through to the end point before making claims about choices. Anyone is free to live any way they see fit, but once one claims to be an environmentalist (I am not, really) then I think it should pencil out, or else it seems a little thin. To be proud of a 25,000 mile car habit on environmental grounds, even in a Prius - it's nothing personal, but I don't get it.

Posted by Steve Jones on 16 September 2009

So you can't drive more than xx miles a year and care abut the environment? Or you can't have a large house and want to recycle?

I think I get what you're saying. You're pointing out hypocrisy if you are consuming more than your share. But what's the share? what's the line?

Being green/environmental/whatever is a line being drawn. There are Luddites that draw it one place, others that are completely in the other direction. It's not "natural" that one would do anything because they have a belief. You are painting people with a brush based on their beliefs.

I care about the environment, and would like to be more careful about how I impact it. however I'm not getting rid of my computer to lower carbon use. nor am I getting rid of my car. However I did think about this when I went to buy a car and it impacted my choice. Knowing that I'd need to drive more, I tried to minimize the impact. I could move closer to town, and drive less, but that's not an easy change, it impacts lots of things in my life, and I don't want to make the change.

I'm not "proud" of my 20k a year driving, but in the short term I'm stuck. I'm reporting on my experience, so that others can make their own choices and understand what my experience has been.

There is no such thing as an environmentalist. There are degrees along which we all fall.

Posted by Merrill Aldrich on 16 September 2009

That's cool. I'm sorry about beating you up over this, but I think it's a very important debate that needs to happen, especially in a public forum. I am actually right in the middle on this; the last car I bought was a Subaru Legacy. The mileage is not great, but then, I don't drive a lot :-).

I think you absolutely nailed it when you said, "Knowing that I'd need to drive more, I tried to minimize the impact. I could move closer to town, and drive less, but that's not an easy change, it impacts lots of things in my life, and I don't want to make the change." I appreciate the honesty of that statement. You "need" to drive more to support other choices that you've made. Those other choices aren't negotiable to you.

The Prius (Toyota made the thing work both technically and marketing-wise, so I think we can use that as shorthand for basically the whole Hybrid market) is a fascinating event. I think Toyota realized that it would take both branding and technology to sell them -- it has to be cool to attract an audience of any size, and the technology has to at least provide a plausible advantage to convince people to buy.  

Anything that will change people's habits to reduce consumption has to have both components: brand (coolness) and some level of real benefit. Otherwise people are not swayed, in both categories.

BUT, this cuts both ways: the danger with a brand/image around a car like this is exactly that people don't feel like they also need to change other habits. It's easy to feel good, and feel like you're "done" after you recycle your cans or buy the Prius, but there might be other, major choices in your life that far overshadow the benefits of those two actions. I'm not saying one has to make different choices, just be conscious of that fact and take the whole, real picture into account.

Toyota is looking to sell to everyone, and they use car image to do it. The Prius appeals to a market segment, just like the Land Cruiser, www.toyota.com/landcruiser 13/18 mpg, and the Tundra http://www.toyota.com/tundra/ 15/19 mpg. Is it good to have fuel efficient options available? YES! Are the car companies _really_ about changing the world? Check those links before you answer ...

I'm just saying it's complicated.

Posted by Steve Jones on 16 September 2009

Please don't think I'm upset. It's a good debate, but I'm questioning your argument as much as you mine.

I've had the debate with a few people, and so far everyone I've talked to I've recommended they don't buy a Prius. It doesn't make financial or environmental sense. If you don't drive a lot, then you don't save a lot of $$ or gallons, which then questions is it worth them building a lot of hybrids.

Personally I've never been a fan of Toyota. This is the first car I've bought from them, but they seem to genuinely want to build better, more fuel efficient cars. That doesn't mean they won't build a Landcruiser. There's a market, they want to make money, but they are working to make their cars more efficient, and more recyclable. They have added hybrid versions of other cars, including the Highlander, and have built and invested in much more efficient technology.

They did this before other companies did, and before they needed to. It was a bet they would sell, but they could have made other bets. The selection in 2006 when I started looking for a replacement was bad. Trying to find cars that got >30mpg in the US was a joke. Few choices, and the "green" or "hybrid" choices from almost every manufacturer was poor. Lots of those "hybrids" got 25-39mpg.

We do think about our choices, partially $$$, partially "green" (for lack of a better term). If we run out of milk (or beer or want a pizza), we're out. We don't make trips 20mi to town for trivial things. We combine trips where we can, and I point out it's a time, money, and pollution waste if the kids miss the bus and we have to drive them. If I don't really need to plow the driveway and burn diesel, I don't. It doesn't cost much $$, but it pollutes, and I try not to do it more than necessary.

It's a balance I'm shooting for, not always happy with where I land, but I keep an eye on it. It might not be your balance, but you have to decide at what level you want to consider "green" v $$ v lifestyle. I don't want to make that choice for you. I'm just providing my thoughts and experience on the choices I make. What I do think we have to avoid is the extremes. No Luddites that want to get rid of all computers and cars, and no people that think we should not regulate anything.

Posted by Scott Stauffer on 16 September 2009

"Who killed the electric car"



I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but Big Oil, Government and car companies killed the electric car, or did they...


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