July 15, 2004


This week's Continuing Crisis column in The Bulletin mentions Toyota's new Prius, Steve Bracks, George W. Bush, Peter Garrett, Mark Latham, Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Kofi Annan, Alexander Downer, Philip Ruddock, Cheryl Kernot, Saddam Hussein and his charming offspring, and John Kerry.

Also in the Bulletin: Bettina Arndt, and this killer intro from Paul Toohey:

The old courthouses in Darwin and Alice Springs are long gone. The kids have grown. Lindy and Michael are no longer together. Lawyers have turned into judges, judges have turned to ash. Ayers Rock is now called Uluru. And that skulking dingo is still getting away with murder.

Toohey was working off an open brief on this story, and that intro is as it appeared in his first draft. The man can write.

UPDATE. George Monbiot recently wrote:

Officially, the biggest 4x4s can manage 12 or 13 miles to the gallon in urban areas. Unofficially, US journalists found that the Ford Excursion was doing 3.7.

Sure, George. Hereís the report upon which Monbiot based his claim:

As we approach the hill, I hit the gas. The great vehicle pauses for a moment, as the massive torque is transmitted through its four tons, then lunges forward. We begin to climb. The engine is maxed out. Above my head, the fuel-consumption meter indicates that we're getting 3.7 miles to the gallon.

George might be interested to learn that I briefly observed a figure of 28 litres per 100 kilometres on the Priusís computer. That converts to 8.1 mpg (US gallons). Itís easy to get ultra-bad economy figures, from any engine; all you need do is dump a whole ton of fuel in there under load at high revs. Incidentally, the Prius wasnít under a great deal of load at the time.

More on the Prius: because at low speed it jinks between its regenerative electric motor and conventional petrol engine (which cuts out entirely at stops) the Prius is more economical in town than it is on the freeway. I averaged 51 mpg (imperial gallons; 43 mpg US) at a steady 125 kmh (75 mph) on the open road, but ramped it up to 100 mpg (imp.; 84 mpg US) during a few five-minute periods in city traffic. Freak show.

Posted by Tim Blair at July 15, 2004 01:41 AM

Hey! A picture!

In more relevant comments: my dad just got a Prius. I look forward to hearing his comments on it. If he likes it, that'll mean something: We're talking about a man who borrows my manual-transmission Nissan at every opportunity (my mom made him get automatic and he hates it).

Posted by: Dr Alice at July 15, 2004 at 02:14 AM

I was wondering when we would hear about the Prius from you. I thought I must have missed it.

The last time I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation, even with the current higher gas prices , the gas you save does not pay for the difference in price of the car itself, even if you drive it for ten years. I'm not sure my calulations were correct, though. It's an important issue for me, because I will soon be on the market.

My guess is, I will wind up buying one last "regular" car (crossing my fingers that pipelines in Saudi Arabia don't get blown up) and by the time it needs replacing, the hybrids will have come down in price enough to be worth it.

So, that calculation is important to me. Oh, and if the hybrids just suck to drive, that would be a factor, too.

Posted by: Ash at July 15, 2004 at 02:39 AM

I wonder why they didn't report the reading when said Excursion was going down the same hill.

Some vehicles shut off the fuel supply when they're engine braking. During that time, the mpg is infinite....

Posted by: Andy Freeman at July 15, 2004 at 02:41 AM

Of course hybrid engines use less fuel when the electric motor's running, but the electricity to charge the batteries has to be factored into the fuel consumption tally. Hybrids exchange burning petrol in the car to burning something else in the power station.

Posted by: David Gillies at July 15, 2004 at 05:49 AM

David - Not the Prius, you don't plug it in. The batteries are charged by the engine. But your point is well taken for purely electric cars.

Ash - If you're in the States you get a pretty hefty tax rebate for buying one, so take that into account.

Posted by: Matt Moore at July 15, 2004 at 05:58 AM


I can't see how you would get better city mileage than hwy, unless you failed to factor into account the charge that was already in your battery before you began your test.

Right? Technically, if the battery is charged you could drive on just that till it runs down, then end your test, having achieved a measured gas efficiency of infinity mpg.

Posted by: ras at July 15, 2004 at 06:01 AM

David, Matt Moore is right.

Actually, it's a little cooler than the way hes quickly describes it. Some of the kinetic energy you lose when stopping generates electricity that is channeled into the battery, energy that later is used to help get you going again.

Recovering any amount of the kinetic energy that is just thrown away during braking represents the fruition of dreams of nerds in high school physics classes since the 1980's, if not before. So, even if, in practice, hybrids aren't that great (yet?), they still have that neat trick going for them.

Posted by: Ash at July 15, 2004 at 06:27 AM


I think you're still not getting it. You don't plug in a Prius to charge the battery. Hitting the brakes charges the battery.

Posted by: Ash at July 15, 2004 at 06:30 AM

It's called regenerative braking, and there is a good description here:


Posted by: Ash at July 15, 2004 at 06:32 AM

I still want a 15mpg (highway) CL600. Until the CL65 comes out.

Maybe I can get it tuned for less efficiency.

Posted by: Sigivald at July 15, 2004 at 07:10 AM

God! Another car thread.
Sounds like a bunch of office-workers trying to out-macho each other around the water-cooler

Posted by: david at July 15, 2004 at 07:40 AM

Are hybrids considered "macho"? I guess the jury may be still out on that, but somehow I doubt it. They will probably seem at least a little dweebish for the time being, if only because of how they look.

Posted by: Ash at July 15, 2004 at 07:59 AM

I think one of the main incentives in Virginia is that you can drive a hybrid in the HOV lanes without a passenger. In northern Virginia that's a Hell of an incentive.

But here's the kicker, you must have "special Virginia clean special fuel license plates," which effectively means that your car must be registered in the state of Virginia. Marylanders and Washingtonians need not apply.

Posted by: Bruce Rheinstein at July 15, 2004 at 08:01 AM

..the gas you save does not pay for the difference in price of the car itself, even if you drive it for ten years...

..and that's all we need to know. Prius, R.I.P.

Posted by: Byron_the_Aussie at July 15, 2004 at 09:22 AM

The man can write.

Yea nice para. But isn't there a rule about beginning a sentence with a conjunction?

Posted by: Pig Head Sucker at July 15, 2004 at 10:23 AM

crossing my fingers that pipelines in Saudi Arabia don't get blown up

Would that be a bad thing?

Q Isnít a shift to more economical vehicles merely prolonging our dependence on Saudi oil henchmen and their enablers in the evil Bush administration?

Do I detect a note of sarcasm about criticism of Saudi Arabia?

Posted by: Andjam at July 15, 2004 at 10:42 AM

On my dad's Verada it can measure instantaneous fuel consumption on the trip computer. If I plant my foot I can get that baby up to 75l per 100km. Top that.

Posted by: Mike Hunt at July 15, 2004 at 12:50 PM

What's up with Bulletin website anyway. All content is basically stuffed unless you're a subscriber. Pisses me off.

Posted by: Jim at July 15, 2004 at 03:09 PM


What I think ras means is that the engine charges the battery. IF you start with a charged battery, you need to take into account the gas that was expended to charge it in the first place.

In driving around town, can the engine keep the charge up? Or does the battery slowly drain? If the former, the in-town MPG is right. If the latter, then try 200 miles of constant stop-and-go driving (say, drive from San Diego to Ventura on a Friday) and see if the MPG drops.

Posted by: Gary and the Samoyeds at July 16, 2004 at 02:02 AM

> IF you start with a charged battery, you need to take into account the gas that was expended to charge it in the first place.

Only if you also take into account the potential energy associated with altitude, as in "some of the gas you use going uphill is gas that you save going downhill".

Posted by: Andy Freeman at July 16, 2004 at 02:23 AM