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more prius defense [Jan. 10th, 2006|06:15 pm]
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My commute is 25mi each way, of which 23mi is highway:
(or: )
(or google maps:,+San+Diego,+CA+to+16935+W+Bernardo+Dr,+San+Diego,+CA&btnG=Search or )

I hop on and do 65mph the whole way; my 2005 Prius gets high 40s to 50mpg:

For comparison, my 1995 Subaru Legacy L Sedan (2.2L AWD) got 22mpg with much more aggressive driving habits on exactly the same commute; driving that car with new habits got me about 30mpg, although I didn't have a chance to compare the exact same route.

To compare the payback rate for the added cost of the hybrid, you have to establish a base. For the Prius, there is no non-hybrid version, so I compare it against a base Camry. (Others compare it against a slightly-upgraded Corolla; I think that size- and feature-wise, it is closer to the Camry.) The difference between a base AT Camry and a base Prius is only about 2-3k$.

If we assume the Camry gets 30mpg on my commute, then the Prius saves me .66 gallons of fuel every day (1gal/day in the Prius vs. 50/30=1.66gal/day in the Camry). At 2.50$/gal, that's about 1.65$/day. 250 working days a year means 415$/yr savings on the commute. So if the difference is 3k$, you won't make it up on my commute for 7+ years.

However, that's only 12500 miles; I actually log closer to 19000mi/yr. While the Prius does do worse on road trips, I still get low 40s. Assuming that the Camry would also suffer a bit at those speeds (75-80mph on interstate highways in the rural Southwest), le'ts say 25mpg for the Camry vs. 40 for the Prius. For an additional 6000mi, that's 240gal = 600$ in the Camry vs. 150gal = 375$ in the Prius, saving another 225$/year. 3k$ payback is now less than 5 years.

(Just for grins, though, if gas went to 5$/gal, my 12500mi/yr commute would cost 2080$/yr in the Camry but only 1250$/yr in the Prius, reaching payback in less than 4 years on commute alone; rough estimate of 20kmi/yr total at 30mpg Camry vs. 45mpg Prius, I'd save over 1100$/yr, which would pay back in under 3 years.)

The Highlander situation is a bit different. There are non-hybrid models to do a comparison, although the hybrid has more power than any of the non-hybrid models. Even taking that into account, the hybrid premium is pretty steep: 6k$ for comparable 2x4 models, almost 7k$ for the 4x4 limited:

They're even more similar in highway milage, too, so payback on my commute would take a long time. (The hybrids do offer the promise of substantially better in-town milage, but seeing as I've never gotten over 40mpg in my "61mpg city" Prius in-town...)

However... It's not just about paying back money. Other reasons:

1. Both the Prius and the Hybrid Highlander have lower emissions

2. Prius lets you drive solo in HOV lanes

3. Hybrids in California have 10yr/150kmi warrantees by law

4. Putting my money where my mouth is. Yes, I'm paying the price for being an early adoptor, but I honestly believe in this technology and want to make it succeed.

5. Cool spiffy tech!

6. The Prius, at least, is just darned CUTE.

Other options that are mentioned:

1. Diesel. Not currently available in California (not new, anyway), and not nearly as clean. Some of their advantage comes just from density, too, so you're not really burning less fuel, you're burning less volume. Cleaner fuel is coming, but I don't remember if the emissions rules just get stricter at the same time.

2. Motorcycles. Better economy in some cases, much less utility.

3. Carpool. Fine if it works for you, but differences in schedule and source point have made it untenable for me. (Also, if you're running errands on weekends, you're on your own anyway, so it's better to default to an economic car for that anyway.)

I'm personally facing the dilemma that my wife [deliriumdreams] wants a Highlander, and she's happy with the Hybrid, but I'm not so happy about (1) SUV and (2) 40k$ price tag. If they made a hybrid Sienna [mini-van], especially one with AWD, that would be much my preference. Convincing her, on the other hand... :)

[User Picture]From: simmiejoy
2006-01-11 12:58 pm (UTC)

Probably a bit off your original topic but....


Hey! You are right down the street from me (work-wise)...literally!!! I have the same type of commute you do -- Santee to Rancho Bernardo Road (25 miles), only I go right and I'm right there at work.

How very small a world, eh?


[User Picture]From: tkil
2006-01-11 09:01 pm (UTC)

Re: Probably a bit off your original topic but....


Yes, tiny world. :)

I suspect you work a drastically earlier shift than I do (as I rolled into the office at about noon today!), but if you'd like to meet up for lunch one of these days, that would be fun.
[User Picture]From: simmiejoy
2006-01-12 02:02 pm (UTC)

Re: Probably a bit off your original topic but....


You suck! NOON!!!!! Hrmph! Yes, I work earlier -- 7:30 to 4:00. Although a noon to 8 shift I could probably handle fairly well also! I'm flexible!

I'll post back here about lunch in the next few weeks, I don't think I have your pvt email -- will check on that tho.

[User Picture]From: tkil
2006-01-13 07:38 pm (UTC)

Re: Probably a bit off your original topic but....


Ha ha. :)

Yeah, being a computer geek for a fairly laid-back company has its advantages. Heck, I've gotten them so well-trained that they gave me crap for getting in "early" today... at 11 a.m.

My e-mail is Hope to hear from you!
[User Picture]From: shinankoku
2006-01-11 03:43 pm (UTC)

You know I love you Tony, but ...


Two words, friend Tony: executive summary!


[User Picture]From: tkil
2006-01-11 09:05 pm (UTC)

Re: You know I love you Tony, but ...


Yeah, yeah, I know... long experience of nobody reading past the third sentence in my e-mails.

Somewhat in my defense, though, this was an ongoing discussion on a mailing list; I was just trying to inject some hard data (milage numbers and their context) as well as the soft data (why I chose a Prius).

As well as noting that there's no one best answer, as everybody has different subjective criteria as well as how they rank the objective analysis. The MBA in you would probably enjoy some of the more extreme rebuttals of the hybrids, where they start hauling in CO2 credits. (e.g., )
From: scousineau
2006-02-02 05:43 pm (UTC)

Even less Petroleum used than a Prius


I commute 11 miles one way from Tigard, Oregon to Portland, Oregon in a Dodge Ram 2500 (with a Cummins TurboDiesel). Assuming 18-20 MPG I am using less petroleum than a Prius (or nearly any other vehicle save a bicycle). I buy Bio-Diesel produced locally in Oregon from SeQuential Biofuels (website: The fuel is B95 which is 95% biodiesel and 5% conventional diesel. Costs about 60 cents more a gallon than regular diesel right now, but the price gap has closed from a high of $1.25 when I first started burning the fuel.

Anyway, that works out to what 6/100ths of a gallon of Petroleum for a 22 mile round trip. No HOV lanes available on my commute and I work 05:00 to 14:30 most days so it is irrelevant.

Assuming a used Ram 2500 with a Cummins can be found for $10,000 and still have 100,000 miles of trouble free service left. Marginal Cost per nearly petroleum free mile using the $3.25 SQ quotes today for B95 works out to: Depreciation: ($10,000 / 100,000 miles=) $0.10/mile, Fuel $0.18 (=$3.25/18mpg), maintenance (oil changes $0.015 mile, tires $0.015/mile, insurance $0.03/mile) for a total of $0.34 per mile.

Emissions for Biodiesel are assumed to be substantially lower, but I have yet to find the definitive study. Best summary is at:

However, the biggest benefit is the dollars stay here in USA.

[User Picture]From: tkil
2006-02-07 09:09 am (UTC)

Re: Even less Petroleum used than a Prius


Fancy meeting you here...

Agreed with most of your analysis. If I have to continue the long commute, I would love for something like a biodiesel hybrid to be available in passenger car size.

Overall you use about as much fuel on your commute as I do, 1 gal/day. You can claim a more closed loop on your CO2 emissions with the biodiesel. On the flip side, you're still wasting a lot of energy: no regen braking, and you're moving 2x the mass (maybe 1.5x). And you're substantially more dangerous to others in your 2500 than I am in any passenger car (think kenetic energy, center of gravity, braking distance, and frame+chassis vs. unibody construction).

I haven't worked out the entire costs of my Prius yet. I know that my fuel costs are just under 6 c/mi. It uses standard tires, has specified 5k mi oil change interval, and insurance is a bit high because I'm carrying full comprehensive. Off the cuff:

tires: 400$/40000mi or 1 c/mi
insurance: 500$/yr * 1yr/20000mi = 2.5 c/mi
oil and maint, call it 300$/year, that's 1.5 c/mi.

So my total before depreciation is 0.11 c/mi. Compares favorably to yours at 0.24 c/mi.

Cost of car: 30k$, expect at least 100k mi out of it, that's 0.30c/mi (And mine's loaded, while base is 22k$; also not taking into account inflation, but neither did you, so fair's fair.)

So my total is 0.41 c/mi vs. your 0.34 c/mi. And I get a new car, that is easy to park, safe for me and everyone around me, and cute. :) Using a brand new base Prius for comparison drops it to 0.33 c/mi, which beats yours. Could shave a few more cents off by going with a new Civic Hybrid (which are about 19k$?).

Also, that used truck you're using for comparison got used by someone else for a while before you got it -- which means that lifecycle depreciation isn't fully accounted for. Hondas and Toyotas are the most nearly linear I know of for resale value.

Emissions are indeed murky. My understanding is that usign biodiesel substantially drops or removes the SOx emissions; not so sure about NOx, and COx is unchanged (although, as above, you can claim closed cycle).

Ever sat down and did the math on how well you'd do in a VW TDi?

Actual flow of money, I like the fact that you keep more dollars here in the US, especially at the rate your truck uses fuel. If you're talking about the difference in where the money goes for buying the vehicle in the first place, then I'll freely say that as soon as Detroit can match the Prius on all fronts (build quality, design quality, comfort, toys, and efficiency), I'll seriously consider it. They haven't been anywhere close.
From: scousineau
2006-02-07 08:11 pm (UTC)

Re: Even less Petroleum used than a Prius


> Fancy meeting you here...

Even old dogs learn new tricks. But, I'm not qualified to touch the cute car idea.

There are designs using diesel/hybrid technology. Principal problem with them at this time is the diesel engine itself has an initial cost premium of at least 50% over a gasser and the same weight increase. Reasons for this include heavier connecting rods and pistons for the necessary 22 to 1 compression, heavier block for the same reason, and higher pressure fuel delivery systems. When you add that weight and cost to the hybrid technology premium there is a bigger gulp on initial purchase. Initial capital cost premium has always been the biggest hurdle to overcome when investing in energy efficient technologies. Given the number of diesel electric trains out there, it is a technology to watch however.

Ford, Dodge, & GM all charge between $3500 and $7000 extra depending upon the incentive of the day for their diesel engined pickups. That is 10 to 20% of purchase price. As we have already seen, depreciation is a significant component of cost per mile.

The reason I personally have a used Ram 2500 diesel is that it was my parent's tow vehicle for the Fifth Wheel trailer they lived in for years. The truck out lasted the trailer and when they were looking to get a Motorhome to travel about in, the Ram was looking for a home. The Cummins engines are good for 3-400,000 miles before needing an overhaul--and that may only be top end if the oil has been changed regularly so there is plenty of life left in the truck. Notice above I picked a market value to depreciate from not my capital cost which may be unrepresentative.

Now, on to the Volkswagen TDIs--I love the technology! A real 45 mpg car. Biggest problem for me is seating. We have four children and they all can fit in the crew cab on the Ram. There are only five seatbelts in any of the Volkswagens with the TDI engines so it is really hard to justify payments on anything that I cannot put the entire family into.

Finally Safety: I can only make decisions for my own personal safety on the road. Having been hit by a tractor trailer rig once--it is really hard to share the road with them in something small like a Neon--we sold ours. All observers, including the cops, ambulances, and firemen who responded to the scene figured we lived through the accident as we were in a 3/4 ton Dodge Pickup. A small car would have been pulled under the trailer and that would have been incredibly ugly. As it was we were about a half hour late to dinner with my mother in law--Green Chile Enchiladas, YUM!

One can say nearly anything with statistics as the current IIHS page shows:

Excerpted from: All Occupant deaths per million registered passenger vehicles 1-3 years old, 1978-2004

For 2004: Cars-76 SUVs-64 & Pickups-106

Occupant's deaths per registered vehicle is what I use to justify that my wife's Expedition is the safest place for her and the kids. SUVs fare the best. Pickups are the worst there. Owning an example of each this is suspicious so lets look at it another way.

Deaths per mile is the real concern as few non-moving vehicles are responsible for deaths. This is much harder to find as it is in two places in a big document. From the NHTSA 2004 Accident report:

excerpted for 2004 from Tables 7: Passenger Car Occupants Killed per mile traveled, & Table 8 same for Light Trucks.

2004: Fatality Rate per 100 Million Miles Traveled:
Light Trucks: 1.15 Passenger Cars: 1.18
Slight edge to Pickups and supported by experience.

So in the end I'll justify the Ram 2500 with the best quote I've ever heard on the subject. We were training with the local crash recovery team--the guys with the sawzalls, jaws of life, backboards and other vehicle extraction equipment. The question asked was what they drive after considering all their experience removing people from bent and banged vehicles: "F-250s as we follow the lug nut rule--he who has the most lug nuts in an accident fares the best." Thus from the people who look at more accidents than the rest of us, 3/4 ton pickups get the nod.

[User Picture]From: tkil
2006-02-08 07:15 am (UTC)

Re: Even less Petroleum used than a Prius


From: scousineau
2006-02-07 08:15 pm (UTC)

Re: Import v. Domestic reliability


I have owned a wide variety of cars in my life and worked on many more.

On Build Quality, Reliability, and Safety: My Wife's 2003 FORD Expedition
has been trouble free for 50,000 miles. It has needed 2 tires, 1 set of
brakes, and oil changes in almost four years. Been to the shop once
when a fuse blew. Not bad in our book, and it holds four kids worth of
toys (and the kids to make noise with them)--something a Prius cannot.

If Ford would make a six passenger Escape Hybrid I'd consider getting one!
But, I am biased Ford Stockholder.
[User Picture]From: tkil
2006-02-08 07:16 am (UTC)

Re: Import v. Domestic reliability


There are indications that domestic reliability are finally starting to catch up with the Japanese.

Too bad the level of innovation isn't.

I voted with my wallet, and so did you.
[User Picture]From: tkil
2006-02-08 07:14 am (UTC)

Re: Even less Petroleum used than a Prius


A few scattershot points.

1. We're talking about commute. I know you like the potential to carry your whole family around; how often do you use that, though? And would not a single multi-seater vehicle accomodate that (the cases where you need more than 2 adults + 2 kids)?

And I'm taking this quite seriously. I don't know how far back you read in my journal, but I'm married to a wonderful woman who has three kids. We're not planning on making any more (whew!), but for peace and tranquility purposes, we're looking at vehicles with third row seating. And those are basically either minivans or SUVs, and she hates minivans. I'm still rooting for an AWD Hybrid Sienna minivan, but of what's out there right now, I'm kinda screwed. I really like even gas-powered minivans -- we drove my sister's 2002 Honda Odyssey, and it was great, got 25mpg and we all fit just fine -- but if she wants an SUV...

So I looked at the Highlander Hybrid. Which I think I could live with. Other than the 45k$ price tag (by the time she got all the options she wants). This is still hypothetical, but we'll probably have to get one before the end of the year, and there are things coming up where having it sooner would be nice.

I broached the possibility of selling the Prius once I'm working remotely and no longer have the commute. Her comment was that we'll still have long road trips with just 2-3 people, so having the smaller car is advantageous. By the same token, having a smaller car that you use just for commute and for 1-2 person trips might pay for itself pretty quickly.

2. Safety: I can only make decisions for my own personal safety on the road.
That is a lie. You can make decisions that run on the continuum between complete selflessness, and complete selfishness. (Oh yes, I've thought about this quite a bit.) You choose more selfishly... which is within your rights, but it leads to an arms race with only two outcomes:

a. Everyone is driving a tank. Now everyone is equal, but we have 2x (or more) the kinetic energy involved in every collision; or

b. The rich (who can afford the up-front costs of SUVs and trucks, and the ongoing gas costs) survive, and the poor die.

Neither of those scenarios are all that pleasant to me. I chose a car that optimizes the common case (no collision), even if I might be on the short end of the stick in the rare case (collision).

And the thought of increasing my own safety at the cost of increased lethality to those around me is ... odious.

How do the numbers run? If you add up internal fatalities and external fatalities, SUVs are more deadly. By extrapolation, if everyone drove SUVs, more people would be killed.

(We're already on pace for a world trade center attack every month or so. Where's the outrage? Is it entirely blunted by the fact that "you're in control", despite the fact that people make decisions which make their society less safe?)

3. Safety (part 2): Smaller cars can suffer more damage, but they can also avoid collisions much more readily than larger vehicles can. You're a skilled driver; given the choice between "I'm fucked, hope my vehicle can protect me in an in inevitable collision" and "I can try to dodge or at least minimize the hit", which would you prefer?

There is the issue of externalities and situations where you couldn't change the outcome. But inflicting continuous damage and threat on the rest of society to protect yourself in those one-in-a-million circumstances seems depressing.

On the other hand, you only get one life, and I'm still mostly of a view that mine isn't really worth all that much. My situation means that I can't really get away with that anymore...
From: scousineau
2006-02-08 09:15 pm (UTC)

Safety and Such


To the best of my knowledge and reading, there is some validity to the claim that heavier is better in an accident all other things being equal and that is true even when and SUV runs into another SUV. The small and nimble car avoiding accidents is an interesting idea if you see it coming and have someplace to go. I've dodged a couple accidents in the full size SUV and Ram 2500. The Expedition (2003s have fully independent suspension like on sports cars) was amazing one time when I had a person try to side swipe me, I'd go so far to say that few other vehicles I've ever driven would have done so well in that rapid lane change. The sportier Merkur XR4Ti that I once owned and that you were familiar with would not have done it so well.

I personally have to say my decisions are based on the best and safest that I can afford to buy for my family. These are things that are within the sphere of my control. We chose our home in based on schools, crime rates, and taxes which is a family optimization so to speak. I do not consider myself wealthy by any means, although the tax man views it otherwise as I have been hit by the Alternative Minimum Tax way to much. This appears to put me in you option 2. b. above. Social Darwinism will have to be another topic has your selfish/selfless discussion showed.

Onto third row seats and vehicle loading: My wife's Expedition usually carries 4 to 6 people depending on the trip and we regularly put eight people in it. Per passenger mile it is thus cost effective when compared with taking two cars. On the highway it returns 19 mpg which suffices. About town is another story as the stop and go in it eats the fuel. That is where hybrids are truly wonderful from a conservation of energy point of view. We did look at Honda Pilots, Toyota SUVs (pre hybrid though) and such prior to getting the Expedition and price adjusted you know what we bought.

If I had $35,000 cash to drop on a car a Hybrid would be high on my list. But, right now said capital is better spent on a higher rate of return. Energy Suppliers are attractive and many major corporate stocks are trading at an attractive 12 times earnings.

I suspect the ultimate solution is not going to be found in debating the value of a Prius versus a Ram 2500 on biodiesel for commuting as both are just refinement solutions to the age old problem of location. Telecommuting, locationless work environments, cottage industry and the management skills to apply all three effectively are forward oriented and NEW solutions using new technologies. From a thermal efficiency perspective we are getting 40-50% of the energy out of a gallon of gas in many vehicles on the road today. Your Prius ups that somewhat, but there is probably not much additional saving to be had in the internal combustion engine, be it in my Cummins or your regenerative braking. Really efficient thermal electric power plants are 65-70% efficient and they do not have to move.

Moving electrons rather than people is incredibly more efficient on a thermal basis. So your approach of telecommuting is the best. And, as soon as I figure out how, what I'd love to do.
From: scousineau
2006-02-09 09:29 pm (UTC)

Peak Oil Article


Being in the energy business, I see lots or articles on the future of petroleum. The one linked below is concise, thoughtful and relevant to any discussion of BioDiesel versus the reduced consumption of a Prius.

One conclusion from this is that Peak Oil appears to be far enough off that most decisions that impact it will still be made using a short run analysis. One can define short run for most people as the expected lifespan of the capital item purchased. Assuming people buy cars every five years--A potential peak oil date of 2015 will not impact purchase decisions until 2013 at the earliest and that would require some sign it was approaching that the average buyer understood. If people wait until the price shocks hit worse than Katrina last summer, then 2017 would be the peak of short run decisions post Hubert's Peak.

Predictions of Peak Oil however are as old as the industry itself which the date always being 12-20 years in the future.