Our Next Car: Prius Or Honda Hybrid?

With my new, longer commute we’re going to finally replace our single car, a 1993 Nissan Sentra, with a newer car. The question is: what car makes the most sense, given both that we’re thrifty and that carbon emissions are prime drivers of global warming (no pun intended)?

We sized it up last night, now that we’ve finished doing our taxes (we’re early this year). The Prius can get 50ish miles per gallon, while a Honda Civic hybrid yields 38ish, but then the Prius costs about $4,000 more. And we’re convinced gas will be at least $4/gallon for most of the car’s lifespan.

Even so, the Prius would only save us about $300/year on gas. However, it would mean we were producing 25% less carbon emissions.

Because we’re financially solid with two good salaries, we care a lot more about our carbon footprint than saving $300. But if we saved $4,000 on the purchase price, what good things could we accomplish with that money? The jury is still out, and I’m wide open to input. What do you think is the best decision?

Finally, the elephant in the room I never see anyone addressing is: what is the carbon footprint of manufacturing all these ding-dang cars in the first place? That is to say, what is their embodied energy? My hunch is that it is enormous, and dwarfs the emissions we create by driving. Please give me a link to this information.

Possibly in the global picture, the best course is to buy no new cars at all until our current ones are literally repaired to death. I realize that course would shake up the economy — but a market transformation is what it will take, regardless, to deal effectively with global warming.

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5 Responses to “Our Next Car: Prius Or Honda Hybrid?”


  1. 1 wanderer7 March 2, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    I could be facetious and say get a bike, but I won’t 🙂

    Prius … tried and tested, resale value

    can’t go wrong with the big T (Toyota that is)

  2. 2 Colleen March 3, 2008 at 3:02 am

    You’ve laid out the variables of “car buying with a conscience” very well. There is so much to think about.

    If it were me, I’d do some research on

    ….where the giant batteries go and what hazards they may or may not be to the Earth when Priuses and other hybrids die. Perhaps Toyota has a plan for the batteries; I don’t know.

    ….how much your $4,000 extra on a car might help elsewhere. I know through experience that about $2,500 buys the entire matierials for a volunteer-built house (built with locally-sourced, sustainable materials) for an impoversished family through Habitat for Humanity International. Many of the families do not have proper sanitation before their new home; a health and environmental benefit in the process of an economic hand-up.

    …consider looking for a car with a California emissions certification. There are some available in Oregon, and the Ford Focus with that certification has about the same total emissions rating as the Prius and it is $10,000 cheaper! They are a little hard to find at dealerships, but they are out there.

    …think about the “new wave” of diesels that will soon be available in the U.S. These use ultra-low sulfur diesels have been common in Europe for years and soon we will have them. They get 40-50 mpg. You could even put bio-diesel in one if you like. (My husband and I are keeping an eye on these for the future.)

    GOOD LUCK!

  3. 3 Thad March 4, 2008 at 8:08 pm

    Hi Alison!

    Some time on google turned-up a pretty interesting utility on thet net:

    http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/sbs.htm

    In this site, you can compare (side-by-side) any cars, and see things like:

    – per-year greenhouse gas emissions
    – per-year fuel consumption
    – emissions “scores” (per either US *or* California
    standards)
    – annual petroleum consumption (in barrels)

    The default parameters on which this is based are:

    – 15K miles/year driven, balanced over 45% hwy and 55%
    city driving
    – gas price of 3.13/gallon

    Based on these parameters, and comparing a 2008 Toyota Prius and a 2008 Automatic Ford Focus *with* the PZEV emissions equipment, the following stands-out:

    – combined gas mileage of the prius is reported as 46mph,
    vs 28 for the focus
    – annual fuel cost for prius vs focus is $1019 vs $1676
    (i.e. about a $650/yr savings0
    – the prius consumes about 7.4 barrels of oil per year,
    vs the focus 12.2 barrels
    – the prius emits 4.0 tons of CO2 annually, vs the
    focus’s 6.6
    – *both* cars get the same emissions rating (under
    California standards), of 9.5 out of a best possible
    of 10!

    The site also allows one to customize the parameters on which this comparison is based. Adjuusting for something
    that is probably closer to your own driving habits:

    – 8K miles/year
    – 70% highway (you take mass-transit in the city most
    of the time!)
    – $4/gallon fuel cost

    We see the following:

    – the prius will cost $696/yr to “fuel”, vs $1067/yr
    for the focus (for about a $400/yr difference)
    – the prius will consume 4 barrels of oil/yr, vs
    6.1 barrels for the focus
    – greenhouse gas emissions for the prius will be 2.1
    tons/yr, vs 3.3 tons/yr for the focus

    For both cars, the MSRP is as-follows (from msn autos on the net):
    – Toyota Prius – 21,100 – 23,370
    – 2008 Ford Focus – 14,300 – 16,835

    Msn autos shows the PZEV is a zero-cost add-on, so the main
    thing would be finding one in OR (which *is* possible…I’ve seen them on lots).

    So, as you pointed out, there’s a pretty huge price difference, and to some extent it all comes down to trading off what you could/would do with the money saved.

    It’s unfortunate that we can’t get a report on the “footprint” of *making* each car, so that this can also be weighed in a buying decision. All that is reported on the above website is teh footprint of operating the car…which (as you said) is probably a small fraction of the “real” footprint.

    Some more googling turned-up a bit of info on what having
    a PZEV/SULEV status in California actually requires:

    “Buyers in California can choose a variation that meets the requirements for a Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) certification. To get that honor cars must meet the Super Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle standard, emit no fuel vapors and offer an extra long 15-year, 150,000-mile warranty on emissions equipment. The SULEV emissions standard means the Focus puts out eighty percent fewer smog-forming pollutants than the average new 2007 car.”

    Some “fun facts” about a ford-focus’ emissions that I found on the internet are (NOTE…these appear to have come from Ford itself, so they probably would need to be independently verified):

    – Grilling one hamburger emits more hydrocarbon emissions
    than a Focus PZEV would on a three-hour drive—about 180
    miles.
    – A Focus PZEV would have to be driven more than 2,100
    miles, or five trips between Los Angeles and San
    Francisco, to equal the emissions generated by the
    leading 5.4-horsepower lawn mower in just one hour of
    use.
    – The Focus PZEV is so clean it would take 330 of them
    running at the same time to equal the smog-forming
    emissions of one typical 1971 car, the first California
    emission-controlled vehicle.

    It’s a tough decision. Good luck!

    -Thad

  4. 4 Marcie March 7, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    WE too hope to have a Hybrid one day, but realize that the COST is a bigger factor right now…ugh!
    However, we are watching how quickly they are being added to most car companies these days and hope we’ll get one soon!

    Have you ever seen this? Its quite humerous and in case you are thinking about a Honda Hybrid here’s their latest commercial..

  5. 5 Jay Jones May 8, 2008 at 6:06 am

    The first respondent’s comment about the bike is indeed the best option. But if is going to purchase a vehicle I strongly recommend the Prius. We purchased one in October 2004. At that time with gas at low prices compared to today, I knew it did not make sense from a bottom line perspective. Yet as I teach a sustainability course and also am at a stage in life where I had the resources, it was the only viable choice. It is the most comfortable and efficient car I have owned. I use it in the field on jeep trails as well as in the city and highway. Although I am trying to ride my bike more often, when I do need to drive it is good to know that the impact is fairly low.

    Your question also involved the embodied energy. I too am interested in this. With the exception of the battery, I don’t think there is much difference between a similar mid-sized car. The battery weighs about 110 lb and is a nickel metal hydride battery. Much press has been given to the fact that mining nickel has environmental implications and indeed it does. One of the Canadian mines that produces much of the nickel was a notorious environmental polluter. This plant, which still produces about 30% of the world supply, has largely cleaned up its act. The nickel incorporated in the batteries will be recycled. The value of the batteries and the bounty put on them by Toyota themselves makes them worth 100’s of dollars. I don’t think many of these would end up in a dump. Someone would surely turn them in for the bounty. So, yes there is considerable embodied energy in all vehicles. If you can get by without one that is the best option. But if you decide to get a vehicle the Prius is an excellent choice. Feel free to contact me if you have further questions or information you would like to share. I am always interested in learning more.


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