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Normally, I restrict the "Tips From Tony" list to stuff that relates to Macintosh computers and the peripherals that attach directly to it in some way. Believe it or not, this topic DOES relate to my readers! I've kept this pretty quiet for two months now, and the interest-level among my friends and clients has been INTENSE and very positive, so I'll share this with the rest of y'all. Why? Because the same demographic that prefers Macs (intelligent, creative, well-educated) also overwhelmingly prefers this car, once exposed to it.

If you have seen me lately, you've undoubtedly been dragged outside to see my newest technology-toy - A five-passenger, 2002 Toyota Prius gas & electric hybrid automobile. It never needs to be plugged in, I'm saving the planet, and it works GREAT! I belong to a huge online club for fellow enthusiast owners (the majority of whom are Mac users), and we spend an awful lot of time feeling smugly superior and sharing tips. There are 130,000 of these cars on the road worldwide, and you've seen a lot of them around San Diego, but never noticed them, because they're just typical-looking small sedans.

In brief:

A round-trip four-day weekend to Palm Springs from San Diego for three big, corn-fed men with all of our luggage, driving around all four days and coming back, cost me exactly thirteen dollars in gas. I've owned the car for two months, and I've put gas in it five times, usually paying about ten bucks each time. For the first 35,000 miles, I pay only for gas, and that includes free Toyota roadside assistance. The car's electric portion has an eight-year warranty! In terms of safety, the car sacrifices itself to save the occupants. I know of six major, major accidents involving the Prius, and the worst thing that happened to one person was a broken leg.

I get twice the gas mileage of a Harley motorcycle, put out one percent of the Harley's exhaust pollution, and can cruise at 85 MPH all day until I need to refuel at around 550 miles (with an eleven-gallon tank). It's a Super Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV), and if I were to drive it in Los Angeles on a really bad, smoggy day, the exhaust would actually be cleaner than the surrounding air! If somebody were to seal themselves into a closed garage with a running Prius to attempt suicide, it would take over 2-1/2 days!

I was demonstrating the car to a client yesterday and chirped the tires when I accelerated, because electric motors have a lot of torque. During normal city driving, I can cruise along in dead-silent, all-electric "stealth" mode without ever (automatically) firing up the gas engine except when I need some extra power. You just get in and drive, and the car's four computers handle everything automatically. When I'm in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I burn zero gas and emit zero emissions as I breathe filtered, air-conditioned air, and listen to the superb stereo. Other vehicles seem strange to me now - So noisy, smelly and wasteful.

As I said earlier, you never need to plug it in, and couldn't if you tried. The car automatically snags leftover energy that is normally thrown away while you stop, and the motor acts as a generator during freeway driving.

You can pick up a nicely-equipped Prius like mine for around $18,000 (though you have to pick it up in LA for that price). Our car has nearly every option (four air-bags, cruise control, traction control, climate control and so forth) except for the DVD Navigation system, which I didn't see much point in paying for. We get to claim a $2,000 "Clean Fuel" federal tax deduction this year:

and we might just get our $1,800 California sales-tax back if California follows the example of New York State - Now that Democrats run everything here, it might happen soon.

What would I change? I want a telescopic steering-wheel (it already tilts), a way to tilt the front of the seat for my long legs, and an arm-rest that I would not have had to order online... the car was designed for Tokyo traffic and parking, so you can fold the mirrors, park RIGHT up against the other car, slide to the other side and get out. I'd rather have an armrest, so I bought a nice one! There is honestly nothing else I would complain about.

How does this relate to Macs? We Mac users are willing to use something that's demonstrably superior, even if it's a bit unusual, and this car is odd - It's QUIET, smooth, and the instrument-panel is in the middle of the dash, where it can be seen quicker and clearer than through the steering-wheel. The dash includes a great big color screen to give you instant, positive feedback when you're driving economically. I use the screen like a video game - I chortle with glee when I get around 60-75 MPG on my way home from Chula Vista. I got over 100 MPG on the last forty minutes of my two trips to Palm Springs!

As you already know, I'm six foot five and 250 pounds, and I fit into this car just fine - It has the same front legroom and height as a Camry (with lots of back-seat legroom), but it's a sub-compact on the outside, with an astonishingly small turning-radius. The battery is only the size of six loaves of bread, so the trunk is quite large. Being a Toyota, it's ridiculously dependable - the Prius is at the very top of the JD Powers and Associates list for dependability among cars of its size.

Can you tell that I'm happy? I'm in good company, too - The big names out there are way out in front on this topic:

Alexandra Paul (actress) Arianna Huffington Arie Emanuel (Hollywood "superagent") Bill Maher Billy Joel Cameron Diaz Carole King City of Austin, Texas (for use by Mayor and city officials) Congressman Brian Baird (WA) Congressman Darrell Issa (CA) Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (MD) Congresswoman Connie Morella (MD) County) David Duchovny David Hyde Pierce Dennis Weaver Donna Mills (actress) Donny Osmond Ed Begley Jr. (last I heard it was his wife's car - he drives a Rav4 EV...) Fred Krupp (Executive Director for Environmental Defense) Harrison Ford Howard Ris (Executive Director for Union of Concerned Scientists) Jackson Browne Jane Fonda Jeff Goldblum Larry David (2 vehicles) Leonardo DiCaprio (2 vehicles, plus four for his family) Lindsay Wagner Meryl Streep Olivia Newton-John One of "The Indigo Girls"...can't remember the name.... Patricia Arquette Rob Glaser (CEO of Real Networks) Rob Reiner Robert L. Sills (Chairman of American Lung Association, Los Angeles County) Robert Schults (President & CEO of Shaklee Corporation) several Mayors and other city officials in different counties... Stephen Collins Ted Danson Warren Leon (NESEA) Woody Harrelson

The following article says it all pretty well, so the next time you see me, come on out for a ride - Toyota is announcing the first hybrid SUV in early January (probably a Highlander), so you'll get your chance if a small car isn't your style. They're also expected to announce the third generation Prius as well. If you want to BUY one of these little charmers, talk to me - I don't sell them or get kickbacks, but I sure know a lot about them - Let's save the planet!

Subject: New York Times Prius/hybrid article wheels_e3b05921929fb0f400a9.html

Some see Prius as the 'anti-SUV' Gas-electric hybrid wins pockets of fans in Hollywood and elsewhere. Danny Hakim - New York Times Friday, December 27, 2002

The latest car-as-statement is an unornamented Japanese subcompact whose drivers want to poke a finger in the eye of Saddam Hussein, oil sheiks and neighbors who jump into gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles for drives to the grocery store.

The car, the Toyota Prius, is one of three vehicles in a small but soon-to-grow category of vehicles known as hybrids. By running on a combination of gas and electric power, they get as much as double the mileage of conventional cars. The Prius has attracted a bipartisan coterie of customers who say they consider it the anti-SUV, a car that makes both a political and environmental statement without demanding too many trade-offs.

Prius owners include Hollywood celebrities who wear their environmentalist sentiments on their sleeves --- actors like Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ted Danson. More surprisingly, the car is being bought by Republican county sheriffs and bank executives intent on doing their part, as war drums beat in the Mideast, to reduce American oil imports.

''This is a technology that will take us out of our dependence on foreign oil,'' said Wyatt Earp, who besides being a descendant of the Wyatt Earp is a fleet manager for the sheriff's office in Marion County, Fla. Earp, who at work drives a Prius embossed with the words ''Homeland Security Vehicle,'' recently bought four for the department.

Diaz's latest Prius is snazzier, with a custom black paint job and leather seats. ''I wanted to do my part,'' said the actress, who bought her first Prius a couple of months after Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Driving with a heavy foot in Los Angeles traffic, she said she got about 18 miles per gallon in her old Mercedes. But, she said, ''I can milk 40 to 45 out of the Prius, if I'm driving like a good girl.''

Toyota began selling the Prius in the United States in limited numbers two years ago, and about 37,000 are now on the road here. Worldwide, the company hopes to sell 300,000 hybrids annually within five years. It is expected to announce at least one new hybrid model at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next month.

Detroit tiptoes in

Toyota's production plan means ''this is going to go from being an environmental curiosity to a commercially important product,'' said John Casesa, an analyst at Merrill Lynch.

Not everyone is convinced. For a long time, executives at General Motors believed that adding an electric motor to every car was unduly expensive and would divert resources from what they consider more viable new technologies, including vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

However, the automaker reportedly intends to announce in January that it will add hybrid powerplants to several of its models.

Others in Detroit, though, are tiptoeing into the business.

DaimlerChrysler said last month that it would start selling a hybrid version of its Dodge Ram pickup truck next year, and Ford Motor Co. plans to sell a hybrid version of its Escape sport-utility beginning late next year.

The Prius has an electric motor that takes over for the internal combustion engine at low speeds and when the car stops. Because the electric motor is charged by the gas engine, the car never needs to be plugged in. The gas engine kicks in at 15 mph to 20 mph, so the Prius usually gets its best mileage in city driving, unlike conventional cars.

Drivers say the silence of the electric motor can be disconcerting at first.

''When you're sitting at a light, you're thinking, 'Did my car just die?' '' Diaz said. ''You have to be careful going down alleyways, because people don't hear you coming.''

James Press, the executive vice president of Toyota Motor Sales USA, said the Prius is slightly profitable already --- not counting an undisclosed amount in research-and-development costs.

''When you have that kind of volume to spread the investment over, and anticipated improvement in economies of scale, and improvement of efficiencies of production and design, these vehicles should be as profitable as anything else that we sell,'' Press said.

The Prius is not cheap. Prices start at $20,500, some $4,500 more than a similarly sized Toyota Corolla, though buyers qualify for a $2,000 tax deduction intended to spur sales of fuel-efficient vehicles.

Until recently, the Prius was the only four-door hybrid sold in the United States, but Honda --- which has sold its two-door Insight since 1999 --- recently began offering a hybrid Civic, starting at $19,550.

Endorsed by nuns

Politicians who drive Priuses include Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.), who lost her re-election campaign last month, and Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah). New York has bought more than 200 Priuses for its buildings and parks departments, among other city agencies.

The Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a community of nuns based in Monroe, Mich., about 35 miles south of Detroit, has bought several of the hybrids. Recently, the nuns used them to ferry religious leaders who came to lobby the Big Three for improvements in fuel efficiency.

''The gospel today requires that we respond to the needs of Earth,'' Sister Nancy Cathcart explained.

Robert Goldberg, the president of Cleveland-based Ohio Savings Bank, has bought five Priuses so far, and Goldberg said he plans to convert the company's whole fleet of a few dozen cars to hybrids.

''It's a fight against terrorism,'' Goldberg said. ''If the United States was not so dependent on oil in the Middle East, we wouldn't have the problem we do.''

Goldberg used to drive an Audi A6 himself and said that his gas bill has fallen from nearly $30 every week to $15 every two weeks since he bought a Prius for himself.

Ariel Emanuel, a Hollywood talent agent whose brother, Rahm, was elected to Congress last month as a Democrat from Chicago, traded in his Ferrari for a Prius. His gas bills of $250 a month have fallen to about $30.

''Every time I get into it, I feel like I'm demonstrating my point of view on national security,'' Emanuel said. ''Fifteen of the 19 terrorists came from Saudi Arabia. I refuse to give them more money.''

Stephen Collins, one of the stars of the WB network's drama ''Seventh Heaven,'' said he bought his Prius at the recommendation of the actor Ed Begley Jr., an environmental activist who also appears on the program.

''It was a personal political reaction to Sept. 11,'' Collins said.

''It's my personal fantasy that we could turn around to a country like Saudi Arabia and say, 'We love you guys, but we don't need your oil. Knock yourselves out, but we don't need it.' And it wouldn't be that hard to do.''




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