By on December 10, 2009

Prius and Peace

A happy marriage isn’t exactly the easiest thing to engineer. Gasoline and electricity are about as compatible as Donald Trump and Mother Theresa. I know, Ferdinand Porsche built a “hybrid” in 1899, and there have been others since. But its time to bust the very myth that I’ve been guilty of perpetuating myself: Porsche’s “Mixte” wasn’t a real hybrid. It was an EV with a gas generator to extend its range when the battery gave out, just like the Volt. That’s like calling a single guy with a house cleaner and a hooker “married”.  But the Toyota engineers pulled it off, teaching the two oldest propulsion systems how to dance, simultaneously. And in doing so, the Prius has become the most revolutionary car since the Model T.

CC 65 gen1 Prius 011 800Electric cars date back to 1839, when Robert Anderson of Aberdeen, Scotland built the first one. Battery-electrics would go on to have a substantial share of the market in the first few decades of the 20th century, as smooth and quiet city cars. Their huge, heavy and expensive lead-acid batteries were their limiting factor.  Porsche’s Mixte and his later gas-electric vehicles, like the incredible “land trains” were more about bypassing the problems of crude clutches and transmissions of the day than practical efficiency.

In so called “serial hybrids”, which aren’t conceptually very complicated, the IC engine only drives the generator. But losses in the generator and electric motor exceed those of an IC driving the wheels directly through an efficient transmission. Like in the Volt and Mixte, a range extender works best backing up a large battery, which is of course heavy and expensive.

Parallel hybrid drive, where electric and gasoline propulsion are used interchangeably and jointly in order to maximize each system’s relative advantages, is not exactly newer than the serial hybrid, but its just a lot harder to pull off, at least commercially. In 1900, a Belgian carmaker, Pieper, introduced a small car in which the gasoline engine was mated to an electric motor under the seat. When it was “cruising,” the electric motor was in effect a generator, recharging the batteries. But when the car was climbing a grade, the electric motor, mounted coaxially with the gas engine, gave it a boost. Piper’s patents were used by a Belgium firm Auto-Mixte, to build commercial vehicles from 1906 to 1912.

CC 65 gen1 Prius 018 800There were others too, but once self-starters and better clutches and transmissions came along, interest in hybrids of both kinds mostly died out. The resurgence came in the late sixties, especially when the government began to regulate emissions. But the key engineering work that the Prius would eventually borrow heavily from, was undertaken in 1968-1971 by three scientists working at TRW, a major auto supplier. They created a practical parallel hybrid system, designated as an electromechanical transmission (EMT), and patented it. It provided brisk vehicle performance with an engine smaller than required by a conventional internal combustion engine drive.

There were two catalysts that are responsible for the birth of the Prius. In 1992, Toyota announced its Earth Charter, a document outlining goals to develop and market vehicles with the lowest emissions possible. And in 1993, President Clinton created the PNGV (Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles), a billion dollar program that was to result in commercially produced family-sized cars capable of 80 mpg by 2003 (US companies only need apply).

Feeling left out but not wanting to be left behind, Toyota embarked on its own project “G21”, to create a Corolla-sized car that would improve its fuel efficiency by 50%, a target later raised to 100% (60 mpg on the optimistic Japanese fuel economy cycle). The whole story of the Prius’ very ambitious development time ne is a little beyond our scope, but here is an excellent article on it.

CC 65 gen1 Prius 005 800As is all too common with government hand-outs, the PNGV vehicles amounted to very little except the usual Detroit Autorama-style dog and pony show. All three used diesel engines in their hybrid architecture, despite the known fact that diesel technology at the time was not going to be EPA compliant by the time the cars (theoretically) arrived in 2003. Never mind asking what they would have cost to produce. Anyway, the Big Three were too busy minting serious coin from their big SUVs to be seriously distracted with such nonsense during a time of record low oil prices.

Toyota’s biggest technical hurdle by far was the Prius’ battery pack, managing its thermal issues. The rest was not really that difficult, given the prior work done in the field (resulting in on-going patent litigation). Toyota claims it spent about one billion of its dollars on development, about the same as it cost to develop a typical new car. The Prius concept was shown in 1995, and the first Japanese-market version went on sale in 1997. A somewhat revised but almost identical-looking Prius went on sale in the US as a 2001 model. I remember buying gas for 98 cents that year.

CC 65 gen1 Prius 016 800My first ride in a Prius was in a gen1 version like this that my father in-law drives. We drove down from the hills of Salt Lake City into downtown, and he kept the gas engine from coming on the whole way. The downhill segments kept the battery charged for accelerating from lights and the short flat sections. It was a revelation. I knew then that a new era was dawning, and that Detroit, Washington, and the PNGV had blown it. Here was a practical and reasonably roomy car that cost $19,995 and could get 50mpg.

Improving fuel economy from 25 to 50 mpg results in a savings of 280 gallons per year, at 14k miles/year. And the additional improvement to the lofty PNGV goal of 80 mpg? 100 more gallons saved per year. The law of diminishing returns was never better explained than by that billion-dollar boondoggle. In theory, that is.

The rest of the Prius story is well known. From 15k unit s sold in 2001, it is now one of the Top Ten best sellers. Not surprisingly, Eugene was an early adopter. There are about four or five of these gen1 models within a couple of blocks from my house. I couldn’t resist shooting this one, because of all of its stereotypical bumper stickers, and it being parked in front of that fluttering rainbow PEACE flag. How perfect and lucky was that? And the stereotypical female owner is…a massage therapist. But the military Jeep and its crusty vet owner live just down the street from her. To live in Eugene successfully, one learns to embrace diversity, even if it’s mostly white. And to visualize whirled peas.

stereotypical

It took a while for the rest of the industry to get what this massage therapist did ten years ago. In 2004, GM’s Bob Lutz dismissed the Prius as “an interesting oddity”. Two years later he announced the Prius-killer Volt with these words: “the electrification of the automobile is inevitable”. And now, the only manufacturers that don’t have hybrid projects humming on the front burner are either looking for a partner, as in the latest Suzuki-VW tie up, or are in a precarious state (think Fiatsler). The diesel-smoking Europeans held out for quite a while, but they’ve now taken up hybrid religion with fervor.

The oddest thing about the Prius is all the hate it has provoked. I always assumed auto enthusiasts got excited about new technologies. By that, I mean excited in the usual sense. Perhaps the Prius’ marketing contributed to it, like this very early ad. Prius polarization is just another reflection of the times we live in. If GM had come out with a Prius in 1974, based on their sixties hybrid research, it would have been universally acclaimed (until it stopped working, that is). But that was then, and now we demonize that which we don’t understand, or don’t make the time and effort to understand. As we say in Eugene: “it’s all good, man”.

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68 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 2001 Toyota Prius...”


  • avatar
    rnc

    The problem with the PNGV program is that it mandated development of 80mpg (50 would have been realistic), that meant that the technology and materials used would not be applicable to the real world (yes you could build an all aluminum/plastic, diesel-hydrid with silver/nitrid batteries and it would get 80mpg, but it would also cost $100k to build).  It was never more than a demonstration and if the program is poorly thought out, the results usually will be too.

    On the other side the D3 would never have invested in those things if the program hadn’t existed, Toyota deserves the rewards of it’s forsight.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    the manufacturers only have themselves to blame they made hybrids into this unsexy sandal wearing vegetarian kinda religion… besides a few exceptions hybrids are horribly bland or even worse, unattractive.
    enthusiasts are by nature fairly selfish as it stands however it’s not helped by Toyota making the Prius such a wart of a car
    but this is typified by cars like the Camry and Civic Hybrid… why make a hybrid version of a normal car? make the car distinct so you can tell everyone how much of a boorish douchebag you really are

    • 0 avatar
      baldheadeddork

      I find it interesting that we enthusiasts openly worship, hell – proselytize, for cars like BMW, Porsche, Corvette, Ferrari, Audi – even though they attract a far larger number of “boorish douchebags” than I’ve ever met among hybrid owners.  Projection ain’t just for a movie theater.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Some clever engineering? Yes. Fuel efficient compared to most other petrol cars? Yes. Revolutionary? Very possibly. A future classic? Maybe.
    I know I go on about hybrids but I just can’t shake it. I even went out and took a test drive of a new Prius just to see if my preconceptions were just that – preconceptions. To a certain extent a few of my gripes were – but even so, the fact are:
    They are less fuel efficient than some similar sized (European) diesels.
    They are not fun to drive.
    They will require expensive battery replacements further into the vehicles life, nullifying any fuel cost savings made by the owner.
    I guess what the Prius really has shown the world is the possibilities of what petrol/electric vehicles can do, and Toyota should be congratulated for building what is (compared to standard cars) a quite complex vehicle which appears to be mechanically reliable.
    However I have to agree with the comments above. Car enthusiasts are a very partisan bunch, and you will often see a Ford enthusiast will go on about how rubbish GM’s products are and vise versa. But here was a car which was designed to be slow, looked ugly and was marketed to people who hate cars. It was going to piss off anyone who was a petrol-head who appreciated how driving a REAL car actually made someone feel. It is the antithesis of motoring enjoyment.

    • 0 avatar
      vwet9394

      >> They are less fuel efficient than some similar sized (European) diesels.
      http://www.carpages.co.uk/co2/
      Go ahead and find me an European diesel that is more efficient.  Remember that diesels are more energy compact and therefore release more CO2 per gallon.

      >> They are not fun to drive.
      Completely agreed! OTOH, I find the game of maximizing MPG fun as well.

      >>They will require expensive battery replacements further into the vehicles life, nullifying any fuel cost savings made by the owner.
      Proof? Prius were available since 97 in Japan & 01 in US.  They have a decade of history to prove you wrong.
      >>a quite complex vehicle which appears to be mechanically reliable
      http://eahart.com/prius/psd/
      http://auto.howstuffworks.com/automatic-transmission2.htm
      Prius uses planetary gear set,  same as the auto transmissions. It is not complex, but clever though.

      >> the 12-year payback on the hybrid price premium
      The 12-year payback time compared to what? What is the payback time when you pay thousands for the leathers seats or the sunroof?
      The lower emission by itself  is the virtue to buy a hybrid, if you care about the environment.

    • 0 avatar
      Geotpf

      There is no diesel vehicle, of the same size or larger, that gets the same or better mileage than the Prius.  (If you see a British source mentioning a diesel car that gets 70 MPG or something, keep in mind that A. Those cars are two or three class sizes smaller than the Prius B. The UK mileage test is much easier than the America one with all vehicles scoring higher and C. An Imperial (UK) gallon is 1.2 US gallons, so every MPG number is inflated by 20% due to that alone.)

      As for battery replacement, you should have to do so about as often as you replace the entire gasoline engine on a normal car; IE, never.  In fact, since the gasoline engine and conventional brakes are used less and therefore get less wear and tear per mile driven, hybrids tend to have exceptional reliability.

  • avatar
    Garrick Jannene

    As much as myself and many other auto enthusiasts dislike this vehicle (for me, I just hate the stereotypes associated with it, I think many others would agree), this thing is an engineering marvel.  Such a complex and efficient system that is both low-cost and has proven to be very reliable.  I don’t say this often, but well done Toyota.  Well done.

  • avatar
    jmo

    I remember buying gas for 98 cents that year.

    The big three we nearly brough down by the 72′ Arab Oil Embargo and the ’79 revolution in Iran.  One would think they would have wanted to have products in the mix that would help insulate them from the next crisis.  Be it a revolution in Saudi Arabia, a new Arab Isreali war, etc.

    At the height of the SUV craze was there anyone at the big three wondering how they were going to survive the next oil shock?

    At least Toyota knew that if demand for Tundras and 4-Runners fell due to high oil prices they had Corollas and Prius to fall back on .

  • avatar
    SkiD666

    Well to be fair, when Bob Lutz dismissed the Prius as an ‘oddity’, he was right. The first gen Prius was a ‘crappy’ car compared to the current version and the first gen Honda Insight was also a ‘crappy’ car. So Hybrids in general didn’t have much going for them at the time (a VW diesel was a better option).

    What Bob (and GM) didn’t take into account was that the Prius would continue to be improved and that the price of gas would spike.

    • 0 avatar
      Geotpf

      The first gen Prius was inferior to the second or third gens, but it certainly wasn’t a “crappy” car.  It was basically an overpriced Toyota Corolla that got better mileage.  It was pretty much an “average” car in almost every way except gas mileage and reliability, which were both significnatly above average.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    They are less fuel efficient than some similar sized (European) diesels.
     
    Such as?  There’s not one European diesel of the same size that can pull the same combination of mileage, performance and price.  About the closest you can get are midsized wagons like the Passat TDI, and even then you’re talking about a 1.6L engine pulling a >3000lb car
     
    They will require expensive battery replacements further into the vehicles life, nullifying any fuel cost savings made by the owner.
     
    No, they don’t.  We have Priuses of this generation still on their original battery, and we have all sorts of other cars—conventionally powered at that—that have seen engines or transmissions replaced.   Never mind that Toyota pays a bounty on battery packs, or that they’re warrantied to eight years.

    They are not fun to drive.
     
    Nor are any other midsize cars, really.  I don’t think this is a hybrid problem as much as it’s demographic one.  Enthusiasts don’t want a vanilla car, and if hybrids are going to make money and marketshare, they’re going to have to go after the fat part of the market.
     
    I do agree that, by their very nature, they were designed to honk off enthusiasts.  There’s two reasons for this: partly (mostly) because it’s a threatening car: it’s everything any gearhead would say is wrong, and yet it’s proving reliable and appealing.  Second is that it’s got a definite left-wing bent (hey, if the Miata and Beetle are gay then the Prius is definitely pinko) and the whole culture around it grates on the (generally right-of-centre) gearhead.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    My only experience with any Prius was to test-drive a new 2005 model.  I wasn’t fond of the uneven driving experience, the 12-year payback on the hybrid price premium, nor the high-pitched whine of the switching power supply under the hood. But I don’t hate it.
     
    The Prius has appeal because it is so ‘normal’ to own, requiring only gas and regular maintenance, its price isn’t crazy high, and it is endowed with Toyota’s legendary quality.  Anyone can have one, not just techno-dweebs committed to its care and feeding (take note, Volt).  And it is styled just uniquely enough to stand out a little, but not a lot (take note Aptera).

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I can’t see something this repulsive looking and controversial becoming a classic. My one time experience with one was the then Motor Trend COTY 2005 all new model. It shaked rattled and rolled, the ride and drive were lacklustre, the 12 plus years of pay back meant owning this ugly blight 12 years longer than I would want and the whining shuddering between gas and electric meant when you needed to climb a steep hill with A/C and passengers and no battery charge left gave a feeling of fright when the car lost nearly 30 MPH of climbing power! Oh and lets not forget the silly center mounted unreadable dash in sunlight, the wobbly cheap center console, the see through brown 80′s plastic covers and the silver paint that was already starting to wear off in spots. Oh and I nearly caused the death of an elderly man when backing it up because Toyota in there infinate wisdom decided to put a gun slit divided rear window in place of a normal full sized hatch design. It was and still is the car for people that don’t really like cars and could care a less how it gets them from point A to point B.

  • avatar
    Rday

    I really loved my 04 Prius. I put 97K on it and sold it to my oldest son and his wife. It only cost me around $400 out of pocket excluding tires/alignment/oil filter changes/gas/tuneups.  I did pay $500 for the 120K major service [the only tuneup that I did] that  was performed at 90K. It never left me stranded and turned in an average of 42-44 mpg overall. It is an amazing piece of machinery and if they make a larger one I would definitely consider buying it. It should easily go another 100K before needing major service.

  • avatar

    Many (most?) modern cars will never achieve the collectible status of past cars. I say this because modern cars are so complex that in future, the cost of restoration will be prohibitively expensive.

    Thirty or Forty years from now if you can find a well preserved, low mileage Prius it might be just the thing for someone who wants a historically significant vintage car. Unless these cars really appreciate in value, an extensive mechanical restoration will be out of the question because you will easily spend more than the car will ever be worth.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      an extensive mechanical restoration will be out of the question because you will easily spend more than the car will ever be worth.

      Doesn’t nearly every decent restoration end up costing way more than the car is worth?  I’ve certainly read stories of guys spending 75k on a E-type then selling it for 50k.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, but a car like the Prius will be even more costly. I had all kinds of fun fixing the electric power windows on my 1967 Thunderbird. I cannot imagine digging into the electronics one a car like the Prius.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Exactally jmo, +1000.  If I go buy a 1980 Eldorado and stick $5000 in a restoration it isn’t because that’s what it’s worth.  It’ s because I LOVE THE FREAKING CAR!  It’s that way with just about every restoration.  If your getting into cars as an investiment, intending to “flip” them or something, you might as well use your cash to light your fireplace, or send it to me and I promise I’ll put it to good use. 

    • 0 avatar

      You guys are missing my point. I agree with you that people often spend more than a car is worth on something they really like. This happens all the time. What I am saying about the Prius is that it is much more complex than the average car and the cost of restoration will be that much greater. This isn’t like working on a VW Beetle, a 1960′s Mustang or tri-five Chevy.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      What do they make today that’s easy to restore “like a Beetle, 60′s Mustang or tri-5″???

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      All modern cars are going to be much harder to restore than 60′s and 70′s era vehicles.  The “classics” were simple cars that were welded and bolted together and had much looser tolerances.  Wiring was simple and fuel management was crude.  Compare that to a modern car with various types of steels, plastics, structural adhesives, multiplex wiring, OBD II, airbags, pretensioners, etc.  They sure last much longer than old cars and are safer, but they will require a vastly more advanced skill set beyond welding, bodywork and painting.  The aftermarket will rise to the occasion – you can buy a multiplex wiring conversion for classic cars. for example.  But without a doubt restoration will be much harder – hybrid or not. But one thing going for modern cars is that they resist corrosion much better than the classics and many new cars won’t need full disassembly and reconstruction when they are 25 years old.

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      Read this same claim about cars from the 50s, 60s 70s and 80s. It was never true when it was said by Robert Gottleib  in Motor Trend in 1967 [referencing the then new Mercury Cougar], not true when I have read it in the 80s [about 70s cars] and it isn’t true on TTAC today.

      Even the frigging K Car has it’s own club and the 84 Chrysler Mini vans are showing up  at car shows. There is no doubt PN is correct in his assessment.

      It’s hard to see anything so common in our current lives as being collectible today. But every generation finds it’s own things to collect and revere.Things they grew up with, that a family member had, that they always wanted “back then” but were too young to buy.

      If they only made the current Prius as good looking as the first one, I’d consider one.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    There’s no getting around the fact that cars and other vehicles carry with them a symbolic value.  One of my prejudices is that I would never consider owning an American car. On the face of it, that’s a ridiculous attitude and I admit it. But sometimes it’s hard to get past the symbolism. The Prius is value rich, to be sure, but no more worthy of scorn than some altogether fine American products. I’m planning on turning over a new leaf for 2010. Anyone care to join me?

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Wow, some extreme positions to justify extremist opinions. Who woulda thunk?
    My family drives two hybrids. A 2001 Insight and 2003 Civic Hybrid. I’ve also had a half dozen diesels, a first gen Prius, and several hundred conventional vehicles.
    Cliff notes version…
    Hybrids tend to be far better for city, stop and go, and short commutes. The batteries usually don’t hold up as well in extreme temperatures… and most of them can be replaced for around $1000 these days.  The batteries usually go somewhere between 120k to 180k depending on the elements and driving style.
    Diesels are better for highway runs. They also tend to have the maintenance premium as well as a gas premium that usually will equate to the cost of the hybrid battery. VW’s position as the primary provider of car diesels has not been a good thing.
    For the family car (that’s a keeper) I would opt for the hybrid.  On a pure cost basis, you  will save several thousands of dollars compared with either a conventional or diesel car. We average 20,000 miles a year. Even with two new batteries, the savings in gas alone will equate to the  $2,000 to $4,000 range if you keep it for 10 years or more.
    For the in town commuter, the hybrid still wins. It’s actually cheaper for me to drive the 2001 Insight (55 mpg avg. with no mods), than it would be to buy a $100 vehicle that gets 35 mpg and is kept for 10 years.
    If you’re traveling long distances, or are willing to refine your own fuel, I would opt for the diesel. Try to find one that isn’t loaded with electronics and avoid the Ford truck diesels whenever possible.
    Most ‘Traders’, auto enthusiasts, and people who care about size should stick to conventional gas powered car.
     
     

  • avatar
    jmo

    <i> What I am saying about the Prius is that it is much more complex than the average car and the cost of restoration will be that much greater.</i>

    I’m willing to bet that an ECU emulator for a ’05 Prius won’t be that expensive in 2055.  Also, you have to keep in mind that a Prius is orders of magnitude more reliable than anything built 30 or 40 years ago.  That being the case the mean time between failure  is going to be a lot longer.  So, while you might have to spend $500 a year on the Lucas electrics in your 68 E-Type, you might spend $2000 ever 5 years on your Prius’s electronics.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    What’s wrong with the comment field?  Firefox is giving two-character side columns to type in (I’m now in IE).

    I think it’ll be the second generation Prius that becomes a classic.  Classics are more about iconic styling than innovation, and it’s the 2nd-gen Prius that set the hybrid look in people’s minds.  The 1st gen is more like a Corolla-like car with a spiffy but hidden powertrain.  It was experimental and its buyers quirky.  But the 2nd gen… that’s when the Prius became a totally reasonable car that anybody could buy.

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    The oddest thing about the Prius is all the hate it has provoked. I always assumed auto enthusiasts got excited about new technologies.

    My grandfather, a Lincoln man, absolutely hated the VW bug. Hated it with a burning passion ever since it started roaming American streets. My roommate in college had a three-door, three cylinder Geo Metro that continually found its way out to the fifty yard line of the practice football field. There is always going to be a contingent of people who either are terrified of new things or believe its an attack on their way of life. They’ll get over it eventually and soon they become commonplace.

  • avatar
    shaker

    I always thought that the first-gen Prius was based on the Echo, not the Corolla (it certainly looks like a gussied-up Echo in person).

  • avatar
    wsn

    It will be cheap to restore a Prius in the future, but not to the original condition of course.
     
    Why? Because battery technology will improve. All you will need to do is removing the drive train and insert a high intensity battery. Install wheels with motors in them, add an on-shelf ECU and there you go.

    • 0 avatar
      Damage

      Prediction: No one will be restoring any Priuses. They won’t need to. Many Priuses are owned by old people or driven gently. They will age gracefully, without the wear and tear that prompts a total teardown and rebuild. In 30-40 years, there’ll still be plenty of nice, original, clean Priuses, making restoration unneccessary.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Ok ok, I’m wrong about the diesel thing and the battery thing. I still think it drives crap though, and my utterly biased view of the types of people who buy it still remain. Sorry.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ PN
     
    Why the snide remarks/questions about the IP? Toyota have been open about it – they refined and perfected it. The (invalid) patent opportunists will continue to try to attack them for a few dollars.
     
    Prius/HSD will be taught as an example of transitive innovation in the future I’m sure. They diversified the future of the company and created a market lead no-one can touch.
     
    As a (one time) engineer, I would be delighted to have any part of Prius/HSD on my resumé.
     
    In other news, Toyota just launched the Australian made Camry Hybrid today.

  • avatar

    Quite a bit of automotive history in that piece.
    I’ve driven a gen 3 (I think) Prius, and I like it OK, but I’m not going to do a snoopy dance about it. I like my ICE straight, like my bourbon. But anything that saves substantial amounts of gasoline, thereby prolonging the petroleum party, is praiseworthy IMO. Additionally, it is amazing that Toyota created such a radical car and made it bombproof from the start. (Well, the batteries on my brother’s very recent (09, I think) Prius did go flat on him last week–no word on what happened yet. Sajeev?)

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Here’s another car that I would agree is revolutionary. Whether you like it or not, the Prius has had an impact on the automotive landscape. I’d hesitate to say if it will have the same magnitude as the Model T, but it definitely has made an impact. Let’s give it some time.
    A couple of observations: I can remember the day in 2001 when a client of my former company’s brought a 1st gen Prius to our office, in fact it looked like the one in the photos of this post. I remember being totally unimpressed, even though I had read about the car. I guess being a motorhead, someone having a hard-on over a Corolla variation didn’t affect me. Apparently it didn’t affect him all that much either, he traded it for a Mini when they became available.
    I have always been against the special priveleges for hybrid owners, I’ve thought they were counterproductive. The ability to use the carpool lane with a solo driver? Why? These cars were made to slug it out in traffic. Let the carpoolers use the carpool lane. Extra tax breaks for purchasing a hybrid (although was just as inane to have that tax credit for folks who bought a SUV, but that’s a different argument)? Why not ‘incentivize’ everyone who downsizes with a tax break? The more the merrier, right? 
    In many ways, I think private transportation is one of the worst ways to utilize this technology. To my eye, this would be a great application for service vans, delivery trucks, taxi cabs (besides NYC), postal vehicles… I believe the hybrid systems would be a greater benefit on those kinds of vehicles than personal transportation, but I guess that’s not up to me. 
    Can anyone say for sure that Toyota actually makes money on the Prius? There seems to be no clear consensus on this. 

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ geozinger
     
    Can anyone say for sure that Toyota actually makes money on the Prius?
     
    With the 2nd gen re-design from 2002 onwards, Toyota have said all hybrid vehicles are made at a profit. If people are concerned as to the source, I’m not sure what other source would be available for this information. IIRC the comment was made in response to someone (Lutz??) at another automaker saying “hybrids would never make money” or something like that.

  • avatar
    Civarlo

    I love it. A WWII-era Army Jeep one day, a peacenik-peppered Prius the next. What is it? An equal-time thing? It must have been an interesting scene if those vehicles were on the same street and the vehicles’ respective owners encountered each other.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Well, the Jeep got me thinking of what the most recent revolutionary car is. And them being on the same block is just how Eugene is. We’ve long learned to accept the extremes.

    • 0 avatar
      rnc

      I am really surprised that the original taurus did not make the list.  Look at the styling (exterior and interior) of cars before it came out and after, I think it’s impact has been just as dramatic as any of the other cars listed.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    The success of all hybrids are due to re-capturing the Energy thats going out the door, whenever we brake we generate heat and that goes ou to the environment.
    Whereas Hybrid harness that power back to a Battery, no different than a Spring clock or toy car everytime u tap the brake the spring is being wound back.
    If they could make a Diesel hybrid, u can see even better Smileage. price of fuel is going to go up sooner or later, if not some of us will find a way to make her go up just like a yr ago.
    Uncle Sam should have enuf lessons, 73, 79 and now 08.
    But some of us just never learn.
    Mind u if u had been around back then u can’t enjoy motoring in any better ways.
    46.9  imp gal, I heard they were even cheaper in US. A fnd had a small Honda 50cc or so bike, he felt such a klutz to go over to the gas stn to get her filled up, it can’t even take 25cents.
    My bro -in-law said lived in Indiana then that every so often gas war comes on, u can buy them dirt cheap, some blokes will even tow a small tanker on trailer to get it filled up.
    One can go out race or fun driving all night with less than 2 bucks of gas.
    Back then min wage was only $1.75/hr in Winnipeg Canada.
    Now the min wage in BC is about $10 and gas is 4.5 gal
     
    The first time I rode in a Prius, I felt uncomfortable as the engine turn on/off 20 times in a 5 min ride.
    They use the starter/ motor combination to start, or else would fried any ordinary  starter in 2 weeks.
     

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      And do not forget Fiat and it’s FWD, Subaru was there well before the Golf, and all the FWD British cars of varying sizes through the 60s and 70s along with the Mini.

      The business was heading in that direction anyway after the 1st gas crisis. GM used front wheel drive Italian cars to develop their FWD set up for the X Cars, not Rabbits.

      And nearly all of the 75 Rabbits sold in the US were recalled for major defects and “upgrades”.

      Maybe that’s the part GM copied from VW.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I’m going to disagree with you on this one, Paul – the most significant car since the Model T was the original VW Golf (or, in the States, the Rabbit), which in addition to being a massive hit in its own right, completely turned the market for compact and midsize cars on its ear. Before the Golf, compacts and family cars were mainly RWD, which limited their interior space dramatically. But after the Golf, ANY competitive car in its class had to have a variation on the Golf’s two key characteristics: a two-box design (or three-box, in the case of a non-hatchback car), and a transversely-mounted FWD powertrain. These two design characteristics made a huge range of compact and small midsize cars efficient, spacious, and fun to drive. 

    Of course, the Golf wasn’t the first FWD compact to hit our shores – the Honda Civic had been on the market for quite some time – but the Golf had the size and capacity (and a four-door option) to make it a viable family car, while the Civic was a tiny, cramped runabout unsuitable for family use until its late-70′s redesign.

    This, in turn, made compact and small midsize cars a viable choice for people with families, and broadened the market for them immensely.

     
    Want proof? In the U.S., the first car to truly do a variation on the basic Golf formula was the original Honda Accord, and it’s been a best seller ever since. Case closed.

     
    But for all the Prius’ success, has it it made its winning formula – a hybrid drivetrain – a must in the compact/midsize segment? Clearly, it hasn’t – in fact, the only truly successful hybrid on the market today IS the Prius. It created a market for itself, but not a massive market for hybrids.

     
    The basic DNA of the original Golf is in every single compact, and the overwhelming majority of midsizes, on the market right now – and that includes the Prius, by the way.
     

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Mike, the Accord came out one year after the Rabbit in the US, which means it wasn’t really influenced by the Golf, given three-year development cycles. But stay tuned for CCs on both these very influential cars.

    • 0 avatar
      ghillie

      And the Austin/Morris mini was on the market in 1959.  Whilst that too was small (tiny by today’s standards), it had the Golf’s two key characteristics you refer to.  So those characteristics were available for about 20-25 years before they largely replaced any other configuration for small/medium cars.  The jury must still be out on hybrids.

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      GM used Italian and other Euro cars to develop the front drive system for their Xs, Chrysler went with Simca. And the UK had this sort of car on offer for many years, [well before VW ever had the idea for the Golf]: FWD family friendly, etc throughout the 60s.

      Almost the entire run of 75 Rabbits had to be recalled for patchwork upgrades. Maybe that’s what GM copied from the Rabbit.

      Subaru and Fiat were already here in the US with reasonably roomy FWD drive cars, the Fait 128 in particular.

      This sort of product development began after the first gas crisis, well before the Rabbit/Golf hit US shores. And old idea used elsewhere for years before VW signed on.

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      I had a ’72 Fiat 128, and though it was an anemic rustbucket, it was certainly a model of packaging efficiency.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Is the Prius “revolutionary”, or just some Franken-car that enjoyed a moment in the sun thanks to an oil bubble and an eco-shakedown?    We’ll know in a few years when we look back.   Right now the only thing we know for sure is that the Prius has attracted a near-religious following by a small percentage of the population.
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      ghillie

      As the article explains, there’s no doubt that the Prius is revolutionary.  The oil bubble has passed and there’s no eco-shakedown that requires purchase of Prii (or whatever the plural is) in the numbers that are currently sold.

      What FreedMike was taking issue with is whether it is the “most revolutionary” car since the Model T. I agree it’s too early to know whether hybrid systems like that in the Prius will become as pervasive as transverse engined, front drive, two box small cars.  But it’s looking pretty good at the moment for hybrid cars – it seems most major car makers in the world are either building one (or more) or planning to.

      I don’t agree with your suggestion that the Prius may be “revolutionary” only because it has a near-religous following.  No doubt there are those that worship the Prius – but that’s hardly unusual for iconic cars.  The original mini, VW beetle, Porsche 911 and any Ferrari come to mind.  Even now, it’s certainly not the only thing we know for sure about the Prius and its place in motoring history.

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      The few Prius owners that I know of are hardy “religious”, they just hate going to the gas station.

    • 0 avatar
      don1967

      All fair comments.     All I really meant is that to be considered “revolutionary”,  a car should produce an enduring legacy.   Until everyone (or even half of everyone) is driving a car that was directly influenced by hybrid technology in some way, the Prius is no Model T in terms of revolutionism.   For now it remains a niche.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Another great article. I can’t understand the hate towards the Prius – the drivetrain really is an achievement. Can’t say that I’ve ever liked the styling, though. If I bought a hybrid, it would probably be the Ford Fusion. But that car probably wouldn’t exist without the Prius.

  • avatar
    200k-min

    When thinking of the vehicles introduced over my lifetime that will become future classics I don’t think of the Prius.  Why?  Because collectors are “car people” and as stated above, Prius lovers tend to be people that <i>hate cars</i>. 

    Now if we’re talking about influential vehicles that forever changed the automotive landscape, yes, the Prius would be up there for the “new” drivetrain design.  (I hardly think Toyota invented anything but that’s a different topic.)  In the 80′s the Dodge Caravan was a game changer for a new type of vehicle and the Ford Taurus was a huge game changer for auto styling.  I’d even say the Explorer in the early 90′s was largely responsibe for popularizing the SUV, i.e. marketing changer.  That said….I don’t see any of these cars being expensive sought after classics 25,30, 50 years from now. 

    People collect classics like 60-70′s muscle cars or old Corvettes, etc.  The Gen 1 Prius will be put in a museum someday, probably next to an EV1.  That’s it’s future…not on the auction block being sought after by the casual collector.

  • avatar
    brettc

    I personally wouldn’t buy a Prius, but that’s because I like TDIs and don’t like appliances on wheels. However, Toyota really should be commended for what they’ve managed to build. Which is a small, fuel efficient car that’s associated Toyota as being a “green” car company even though they make a lot of inefficient vehicles.  That’s pretty impressive. Had GM not been sitting around counting their SUV money in 2001 and actually started building the first generation Volt, they’d probably be a lot better off right now. But Toyota beat all of the car companies and reaps the benefits. It might be because Toyota actually has something called a plan.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    What made the Prius a success and a rolling statement of fantasy, was the fact that it was not a hybrid Corolla. The additional cost of a hybrid isn’t justified to consumers if it looked just like another car. Prius drivers want everyone to know that they are better than everyone else around them as they drive a car that cannot be bought with a conventional engine. The Prius succeeded because it makes a political statement that other hybrid cars cannot.

    So, yeah – the Prius is revolutionary in a similar way the VW Beetle was, as a political statement with remarkable engineering. These drivers are concerned about their conscience and what their neighbors think. They want their neighbors to adopt the same holier than thou, self-righteousness they experience every time they silently back out of their driveways.

    Only the Prius can guarantee their owners that anyone who sees them in their car know that they are driving a hybrid car. And it is that image that causes these drivers to cough up the extra cash to make that political statement.

    The only way the Prius can generate more hatred is if it actually had a hood ornament of a hand holding up the middle digit, or if it was covered with those bumper stickers like in the photos shown. The Prius is the liberal version of the big SUV with the gun rack and NRA bumper sticker. I hate them both.

  • avatar
    baldheadeddork

    Paul – very nice review. Good job of putting the Prius in context.
     
    I didn’t know the Prius was born out of response to the PNGV program. The Chicago Tribune did an excellent series of stories on that program a few years ago and it’s still buried in the archives of their website. If you (or anyone else) haven’t read it yet I highly recommend it.
     
    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/chi-scoverview-story,0,652329.story

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “They are less fuel efficient than some similar sized (European) diesels.”

    The longer diesel cars and the crappy air quality that comes with them can stay in Europe the better . We don’t have the infrastruture to support a large population of diesel cars anyways. And it’s not something you fix in a couple of years. Try a decade. 

    The Prius has paved the way for other hybrids and cars like the Volt. I would call that revolutionary.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “They are less fuel efficient than some similar sized (European) diesels.”

    The longer diesel cars and the crappy air quality that comes with them can stay in Europe the better . We don’t have the infrastruture to support a large population of diesel cars anyways. And it’s not something you fix in a couple of years. Try a decade. 

    The Prius has paved the way for other hybrids and cars like the Volt. I would call that revolutionary.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “They are less fuel efficient than some similar sized (European) diesels.”

    The longer diesel cars and the crappy air quality that comes with them can stay in Europe the better . We don’t have the infrastruture to support a large population of diesel cars anyways. And it’s not something you fix in a couple of years. Try a decade. 

    The Prius has paved the way for other hybrids and cars like the Volt. I would call that revolutionary.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    So, IMHO, I was always fascinated with the original honda insight.  I think even in todays revised mpg ratings, it still scores higher than the prius.  Wasn’t this the first mass produced hybrid that had some success?  Yeah it was small, but had a stick option.  For every day commuting it would be far more useful to me….more interesting with the stick, and better mpg

  • avatar
    don1967

    I can’t understand the hate towards the Prius
     
    It’s not so much the Prius itself.   It’s all the fawning adoration being heaped on a car whose main accomplishment is cramming two engines where one could do the job.    Some call this a “transition technology”… but to what?    Three engines?
     
    In the short-term, I am more impressed with efficiency gains being made in ICE technology, such as diesel or direct-injection.  In the long-term, I look forward to exciting new energy sources such as hydrogen, dark matter or Rottweiler farts.    These things represent true progress, whereas hybrids are a dead-end.

    • 0 avatar
      PeteMoran

      Some call this a “transition technology”… but to what?    Three engines?
       
      Only in the world of the absurd, or on the alternate planet Pratsphere where most of the Golf-carting naysayers are from.
       
      I am more impressed with efficiency gains being made in ICE technology, such as diesel or direct-injection.
       
      I’m sure those involved are working on an energy regenerative direct injection system for you to be “impressed” with.

    • 0 avatar
      don1967

      Only in the world of the absurd, or on the alternate planet Pratsphere where most of the Golf-carting naysayers are from.
       
      You don’t tolerate dissent very well, do you?

      Like I said above, a near-religious following.

  • avatar
    ConejoZing

    “Ferdinand Porsche built a ‘hybrid’ in 1899″
    Yeah, the idea was around for awhile.  Toyota’s production line and cost saving / weight saving measures made it into a workable reality.  The real issue was of course the weight of the battery.
    I like to have fun with my car and I appreciate the “power” of sports cars.  Yet … the Prius does kind of make me realize certain other things.  I’ve been making friends with my slow lately (except on the freeway onramp) and the Prius is one of the inspirations for doing that lol.
    Now all we have to do is make those batteries better for the environment… I hear the process of making those batteries is pretty harsh on the planet.

    • 0 avatar
      tulsa_97sr5

      I’m drawing a blank on the city in canada that is the main nickel mine and always gets mentioned in this context.  Everything I’ve read about it indicates that it was at it’s most polluted a few decades back and has been getting cleaner and cleaner ever since.

  • avatar
    Sunspot

    I’m not sure if the Gen1′s will really be classic.  I’ve owned 2 and they were some of the most reliable cars I’ve owned.  Our family has also owned 2 of the third generation Pri, along with an Insight. 

    I’m a motoring fanatic – and owning a Prius doesn’t make me any less so.  And having owned 45 cars in my lifetime, I can assure you that the Prius has changed the auto industry and you will see this for many generations to come.


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