Thursday, May 22, 2008

Prius still unreasonable (and absolute rubbish)

i'll make no effort to hide the fact that i hate the toyota prius. i've posted about it before, but my work vehicle is a prius and being forced to use it today reminded me of all of the horrible things about it.

the interior is too small. i cannot comfortably fit in the front. strangely, if i had a chauffeur, i'd be fine. the back seats are quite spacious.

it is expensive but made out of rubbish materials. compare the interior of a prius to a bottom-of-the-line econobox yaris that sells for less than half as much. the yaris actually looks better.

it is dangerously unresponsive. the whole "stop the engine whenever it isn't being used thing" sucks when you're trying to make a left turn through traffic.

but this post isn't about how horrifically awful a mode of transport the prius is (i'm not sure it fully qualifies to be called a car). it is about how unreasonable a choice they are, both economically and environmentally, even with gas prices at an all-time high.

simply put, compared to their closest non-hybrid competitor, the prius is more expensive. the closest competitor is the toyota matrix. they have the same interior space (though, the Matrix's is more usable, comfortable, stylish, and finished with nicer materials). when the Matrix is equipped with the base 1.8L engine, they have the same straight-line performance (slow). they are made by the same manufacturer. in most ways (interior noise, drivability, usability of controls, etc) the Matrix is superior, but we'll pretend that they are a close enough match.

according to, even with fuel prices at $4/gallon and assuming that 15,000 miles are put on the car each year, the 5 year cost of ownership for a 2007 prius is still $1100 more than for a 2007 Matrix.

according to, you can buy enough carbon offsets for 4 matrix-sized cars for those five years of ownership for $1100.

so, in the best case scenario, the prius is an absolutely painfully horrifc way to get around and only costs $1100 more to own and operate than it's superior sibling and offers no environmental advantage that can't be cheaply paid off.

if gas hits $5/gal without the price of a prius increasing, there may come a day when the prius is a slightly less expensive to get around for some people. given the current slowing of the worldwide economy, it seems to me that we will see $3/gal before we see $5.


Mara Noelle said...

could you please explain to me how 'carbon offsets' work? where is this money going? I know little about it, obviously, but it just feels like we're trying to make ourselves feel better by throwing money at a problem and saying we're good people.

shaun said...

yep, that is pretty much the way it works.

another way of thinking about it is there there is an incremental cost to build a CO2-efficient thing versus a traditional thing and you are helping to cover that incremental cost.

in the energy industry, wind power is more expensive than coal in terms of $/unit energy. but wind power produces carbon offsets as well as energy.

so, if carbon offsets are valuable enough, wind energy is more profitable than coal so more wind power will be built.

but, yes, from a personal standpoint, it is a lot like throwing money away in order to feel good about yourself. classic crisis of the commons problem.