The endless cool, green confines and golden sunshine of California's Napa Valley served as tie backdrop for Eco Driven recently – a comprehensive drive experience of Toyota’s entire hybrid and electric vehicle line for 2012/2013.
On hand were the Third Generation Prius, Prius Plug-In Hybrid, Prius C, Prius V, Camry Hybrid, the Highlander Hybrid and even the 2013 Avalon Hybrid – but that last one is top secret for another couple of weeks.
The whole lineup was presented against a backdrop of consistently reenforced sustainability messaging. To give you an idea of where we’re going with this, the cars were surprisingly strong – and the rest of the festivities blended together into a drum circle paired with just the right Cabernet..
Fortunately, there was ample time to drive any or all of the vehicles around the glowing hillsides and vineyards heavy with purple fruit. In between those happy hours, there were eco-conscious cooking demonstrations, sustainable clothing fashion shows and even spa treatments.
Those ferny forays away from the steering wheels were essentially a way for endlessly earnest and desperately keen folks with green companies and Hollywood-friendly political agendas to call attention to themselves and their businesses. I send them a heartfelt, “Good on ya.” Make money while the solar battery charges, boys an girls. But you’ll have to pardon me if I tend to believe green business are really more about the printed paper hue than the leafy chlorophyl-tinted variety.
To paraphrase a brilliant observation by Jay Leno, environmentalists are always eager to advertise the green efforts they insist they never do for themselves.
But, I kid the ecos.
The star of the drive was the Toyota RAV-4 EV – the world’s first entirely electric. Unfortunately, the world is going to have to travel to California to drive the thing. Toyota is only making about 2500 of them for sale in The Golden State (which mandates that a percentage of all car lots be alternative fuel, hybrid or electric cars).
Much the same as a standard RAV-4 with a few stylish, smoothed out exterior angles to announce its 2013 incarnation, the electric plug-in mobile takes five to six hours from its special charging unit (which can be purchased of leases). On a standard 110 garage outlet, you should have a car that’s ready to drive by the time the polar ice caps melt.
The midsize SUV was made possible due to a heavier duty battery – equipment that make the RAV-4 EV the equivalent of a Tesla S underneath.
The EV will roll about 105 miles in standard traffic. Toyota equipped it with a quicker throttle and a suite of climate control settings that can be adjusted to extend battery life.
Aside from the RAV-4’s premiere, the scene was dominated by the Prius line. As I’ve written before, I’ve gone to war with the Prius in the past. As my well-worn theory goes (and I confess I can’t claim sole credit for this take), the world famous Prius was deliberately to look as ugly as me on a catwalk. It crept off assembly lines as dull as a beige room to appeal to people who hate cars and resent having to own one.
I believe Toyota essentially made a rain forest of money by building a statement car for non-drivers. I described the dedicated Prius owner as a car hater. They don’t like the internal combustion engine. They have no appreciation for performance. They don’t find cars visually or sensually compelling.
To prove my hypothesis, I always point to the failed hybrid designs from Honda. Their old models looked identical to their pure gasoline cars. There’s a theory those hybrids didn’t sell well because green car lovers don’t want want a cleaner, more fuel efficient – and more expensive – car unless they can constantly announce to the world that they drive a a cleaner, more fuel efficient car. There’s no point in “saving the planet” if you can’t call attention to your heroic deeds. (See Jay Leno above.)
All of that said, I mellowed when I drove the Prius C. By making the hybrid smaller and less boxy, they made it a little more attractive and more affordable.
In that new spirit of detente, I can report that I drove the Prius Plug-In. Am I fan? No. Do they drive well and carefree? Yes. Toyota pulls it off with each of them.
And, the Camry Hybrid felt the same behind the wheel as its all-gasoline counterpart. When you consider the gas-powered Camry is once again the hottest selling car in the world, that means something.
When 2013 price tags arrive for each of the hybrids and electrics, buyers will have to decide if eco-consciousness and improved fuel economy is worth the extra expense. With gas prices climbing toward $5 a gallon in California, that exprense is making more sense these days.
However, drivers can still take the Prius C home for less than $20,000.
If the green movement is indeed more about green backs than green house gasses, the Prius C is still the sustainable option.