Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The paradox of fuel-efficient automobiles

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article by Joseph White on the subject of Kicking Hybrid Cars Out of the Fast Lane. It seems that the convention Toyota Prius has become so ubiquitous in California that the state highway department is revoking its HOV privileges. No longer can you cruise in solitary splendor down the High Occupancy Vehicle lane in your hybrid Prius. The coveted yellow sticker will now be restricted to vehicles that are more politically correct, like the Nissan Leaf, Honda's natural-gas-powered Civic, and the plug-in version of the Prius. But here's what fascinated me:

"A lot of us will change our patterns of driving," says Cathy Margolin, president of the Orange County Prius Club and owner of a 2005 Prius.

Ms. Margolin, an accounting professor, says she recently changed jobs and cut her commute to about 10 miles from 50, but adds she will cut out tasks requiring long drives now that she has lost solo HOV-lane access.
So you see, the yellow sticker encouraged Ms Margolin to waste gasoline! She drove her Prius five times farther under the old regime, which means that the world actually was worse off than if she'd been driving an SUV. According to, the Prius gets 48 mpg in highway driving. Ms. Margolin could have achieved an equivalent reduction in her carbon footprint, and saved a whole lot of money, by making the same job change and driving a 1980 pickup truck!

This tracks my own experience with compact fluorescent lightbulbs. There's one in our hallway, which we never turn off. What the heck, it only burns 23 watts.... Blue skies! -- Dan Ford


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