Hybrid cars save more than cash

Posted April 21, 2006
Nancy Dyleuth
University of La Verne Department of Technical Services Chairman Jaime Walker is owner of a 2005 Toyota Prius. He said that fuel efficiency was one reason he bought the car. Hybrid cars combine a gas engine with an emissions-free electric motor powered by batteries that recharge automatically while you drive, saving gas. Hybrid cars offer regenerative braking, periodic engine shut off and are among the cleanest running vehicles on the road today.

Tom Anderson
Editorial Director

Hybrid cars may save their owners money at the gas pump, but some models can still be a money-losing proposition, according to a recent study conducted by Consumer Reports. However, as far as hybrid owners at the University of La Verne are concerned, there is a lot more to these cars than just saving or losing money.

Jamie Walker, chairman of the Department of Resource Services and an associate professor at Wilson Library, has owned his 2004 Toyota Prius for more than a year and a half and has put 53,000 miles on it. And Walker is quick to point out that money wasn’t the thing he was most interested in saving when he bought it.

“It’s a really good thing to do” for the environment, he said.

As far as Walker is concerned, the $2,000 tax incentive, the ability to drive solo in carpool lanes and the nearly $3,000 in fuel costs he has saved over driving his V8-powered Jeep between ULV and his home in the Lake Matthews/Perris area are just icing on the cake.

The biggest ownership perk, in his mind, is the fact hybrids have a significantly smaller impact on the environment than conventional cars.

In other words, not everyone buys a hybrid for the same reason.

“Different people have different values,” Walker said. “Some factors will appeal to more people than others.”

Dan Neil, columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning automotive critic for the Los Angeles Times, agrees with this theory.

“I think the hybrid is, at base, a pocketbook issue, but for some people it has a deeper meaning,” he said.

Hybrid cars are propelled by a gasoline engine, one or more electric motors or some combination of the two systems. At slow speeds, “full hybrids” like the Prius move solely on electric power, while the gas engine kicks in when more muscle is needed.

Hybrids also recapture the energy normally lost when coasting and braking and use it to recharge the batteries for the electric motor or motors. The result is impressive fuel economy and, consequently, reduced emissions.

“In terms of efficiency, the hybrid wins hands down” over its gas-only cousin, Neil said.

Jay Jones, professor of biology and biochemistry, bought his hybrid, a 2005 Prius, for reasons very similar to Walker’s in October 2004.

Jones admits he was skeptical initially, but after test driving Associate Professor of Education Technology John Bartelt’s Prius, he fell in love with the sleek little hatchback, originally purchasing a brand new Prius with the intent of it being his wife’s car.

However, Jones found himself unable to part with the car, so his wife picked out a 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid for herself the following January. But Jones makes it clear that he has no regrets.

“All around the best car I’ve ever owned,” he said of the Prius.

As for the future of hybrids, Neil believes the future looks very promising. With many experts making the dire prediction of $4 per gallon gas this summer, as well as hybrid price premiums shrinking due to technological advances and economies of scale, Neil predicts that choosing a hybrid over a comparable conventional vehicle could soon pay for itself in as little as three years, as opposed to the current five or more years.

However, Jones, Walker and countless other hybrid owners insist there is something much more important than saving money or qualifying for special diamond lane privileges to take into consideration when looking at any vehicle, not just hybrids.

“People have to understand that, through their actions, they have an impact on everyone else in the world,” Jones said.

Tom Anderson can be reached at tanderson1@ulv.edu.

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