Thursday, November 13, 2008

My New Hybrid

My younger daughter was deeply moved by An Inconvenient Truth and has become a staunch environmentalist ever since. She pushed me to change our lightbulbs as well as get a hybrid car as my next car. I usually don't let my kids influence our major purchase decisions but it's hard to argue with them when they're right.

So I got a Toyota Camry Hybrid about two weeks ago. When I ordered the car back in September I calculated I would make up the extra cost in about four years, but that was back when gas was $4/gallon and before Toyota slashed prices on their non-hybrid Camrys. I was told I had a 4-6 month wait but I picked up one sooner that someone else backed off of, probably because of the economy.

I certainly get good gas mileage—I've driven 250 miles and still have half of my original tank. But I do notice several features that simply exist to make me feel good about getting a hybrid. Most cars have tank sizes so the car goes about 300 miles on a tank. They kept the large tank size in this car so I can better feel the gas mileage. There is an MPG dial next to the speedometer, a fancy display showing arrows as energy gets transferred between the gas tank, engine and batteries and when I turn the car off it gives me an "Excellent" when I had good gas mileage. I wonder what I do wrong when I don't get the Excellent.

The neatest feature has nothing to do with being a hybrid. I never have to take the keys out of my pocket instead the car just senses them. The doors and the trunk just automatically unlock when I open them and I just press a key to start the car. All keys should work this way.

What's missing in cars these days is active Internet connectivity. I can easily think of many uses: Updates to maps, traffic, weather, local information, music streaming and VOIP. I'm sure there are many more possibilities people will come up with once a system is in place.

Oddly enough this will probably be my last hybrid, my next car will run solely on batteries or some other technology. That's life in the fast lane.


  1. Get to Radio Shack and buy extra batteries for the key (~$2). Mine barely lasted 1 year and you'll get stuck somewhere without being able to start car. The "emergency" method of starting the car they claim in the manual...not so effective.

  2. She pushed me to change our lightbulbs as well as get a hybrid car as my next car.

    Such actions have essentially no impact on their own.

    The impact comes from you writing this blog post, others noticing that you are driving a hybrid car, etc.

    If few people will notice what you are doing, then it may not be worth doing it unless the cost savings to you are significant.

  3. Next steps:

    move to a smaller house or apartment to save on housing and heating costs

    ask your kids to share their bedroom for the same reason

    turn down the heat, ask people to wear sweaters inside the home, for the same reason

    get rid of your fireplace

    won't your daughter be thrilled with those changes

    and, last but not least: publish in journals rather than conferences to save on travel and flying costs

  4. Congratulations on making an important step (whatever true magnitude of green-ness is).

    Friends of ours and their entire family turned vegetarian - it turns out that going vegetarian is green in more than one way, probably more significant than driving a hybrid. See
    where they talk about an interesting report by Univ of Chicago researchers...

  5. Lance, make sure you do the calculations right. For an example, old incandescent bulbs are inefficient but not as inefficient once you consider that in certain environment the heat generated is a useful product, specially in homes which are in colder climates and have electric heating systems. (I am not sure why we do not have reverse refrigeration for heating, which may have more than 100% energy efficiency.)

    This is an example in favor of doing less aggresive calculations, since I have seen some people do aggresive calculations by not taking all the variables into account.

    Similarly gas is again cheap now. Hopefully the economy would recover sooner than the gas prices. That would be a time for the non-OPEC governments to form a cartel and put a heavy tax on crude oil. Note that whatever tax non-OPEC governments put, a certain fraction of that will help reduce the OPEC price of gas (so your government gets $1, but you may see price impact of only 50 cents on your pocket, because $1 tax would prevent OPEC's driven price increase). Non-OPEC governments could return the 50 cents back to people in other kinds of tax savings.

    The environment benefit is that OPEC, one of the main competitors of energy efficient technologies, would have a bit less influence. For an example, people who would do the same calculation today may find 6 years (or 10 years with interest rate calculation) as their pay off time of buying hybrid cars.

  6. All keys should not work that way - KeeLoq has been broken: