THE BLOG
03/08/2006 09:25 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Rush on Hybrids

A friend of mine and I were discussing the Oscars, and how many celebrities showed up for the event in their hybrids. He told me how stupid and naive he thought that was because he had heard on Rush Limbaugh's program that hybrids have proven to be a bust, that they cost more in the long run than comparable conventional vehicles, due to actual cost of ownership figures, and in the end we would still use the same amount of oil that we are using now!

Perplexed, knowing quite well that this could not be further from the truth, I read what Rush had to say about hybrids on his website in an attempt to comprehend how he could possibly have arrived by these conclusions. I can sum up in one word what I think of Rush's logic when it comes to hybrids. "Flawed." It is due to this flawed logic that I believe his conclusions are so askew of reality.

As a former Toyota salesperson specializing in Prius and Rav4 EV (how about NO oil!) sales, I cannot speak for the "American" hybrid offerings other than to say that Toyota invested $25 Billion in developing their hybrid technology (more than Ford or GM's net worth), and the American automaker to invest the most so far, Ford, has only put in about $2 Billion! Toyota invests in the future. The big three invest as far ahead as next year's sales, in reality because that's all they can afford to do. They have been dragged into the world of hybrid technology kicking and screaming. The real explanation behind their opposition to developing hybrids is that they don't have the resources to compete with Toyota. Ford's Escape Hybrid, while commendable in that it saves some fuel compared to what a conventional SUV consumes, is not destined to make much of a dent in our skyrocketing demand for foreign oil.

Rush says that, "Contrary to any loose statements made by our marketing partners in the environmental community and media, petroleum not consumed by Prius owners is not 'saved.' It does not remain in the ground. It is consumed by someone else. Greenhouse pollutants are released." I find this statement baffling! Is there a backlog of "oil orders" that lies unfulfilled somewhere that I am unaware of? Are there companies out there just waiting for people to buy more hybrids, so that they can have their oil orders taken off backorder? Not to my knowledge. Logic would dictate that if demand for oil decreases, drilling and production of oil will decrease as well!

Perhaps if it was put another way it would be easier for Rush to grasp the cold hard logic behind what hybrids can do for this nation; "If every privately owned vehicle in America was traded in today for a Prius, it would reduce the amount of oil our nation requires to a level that could be fully supported by our own resources!"

Let me say that again in case it didn't sink in fully the first time; "If every privately owned vehicle in America was traded in today for a Prius, it would reduce the amount of oil our nation requires to a level that could be fully supported by our own resources!" (and that's without having to drill in Alaska!)

How about that for a direct connection between the Prius, and reducing, nay, ELIMINATING our dependency on foreign oil! Imagine, American's making a single conscious choice simply of what automobile to buy, one that is currently available to everyone, that in no way inhibits them from continuing to live they way they do presently, yet ends our need to import oil! Can you imagine the far reaching ramifications of that?

What's so sad is that while this possible future lies directly in front of us, waiting to be embraced, Rush Limbaugh still cannot "see the connection between hybrids and cutting our dependency on foreign oil" as he drives home in one of his vehicles, none of which, he is proud to admit, get better than 14mpg! He states that he would never drive a vehicle that gets better mileage than that because they are too small and unsafe! Personally, I think I would prefer the safety of living in a nation that doesn't have an economy that's stability depends upon purchasing oil from terrorist regimes!

Rush says that you have to pay $10,000 more for a hybrid than you do for a comparable non-hybrid vehicle. Hmm! What can you compare a vehicle as unique as the Prius to I wonder? The Prius is one of the smoothest, quietest, most enjoyable vehicles I have ever driven! A buddy of mine says he prefers driving it over his brand new BMW 745! He even says the GPS navigation technology is more sophisticated in his Prius than it is in the BMW!

The Prius starts at $22,000 - very well equipped! Let's see, that must mean that Rush feels that a comparable vehicle to the Prius ($22,000-$10,000) goes for around $12,000! Wow! What can you buy for $12,000? Do they still make Yugos? Even if they did, I doubt a $12,000 Yugo would have power windows, power door locks, AC, cruise control, Automatic (Maintenance Free!) CVT Transmission, AM FM Stereo with CD Player, keyless entry, etc. etc. etc. (all standard features on the Prius) The Yugo also doesn't get over 50mpg!

Even Toyota's Highlander Hybrid gets DOUBLE the mileage of a Ford Explorer, with more power, more standard features, a similar price point, and 1/10 the emissions!

Another thing that Rush is perhaps unaware of is that all these "Enviro Wackos" as he defines them, really ARE helping to reduce pollution by driving a Prius, due to the fact that a Prius produces 1/10 as many pollutants as your standard 5 passenger sedan. Put into perspective, when driving in the city, that means that often times the pollutants created by the engine, coming out of the tailpipe, are of lower concentration than those already in the air it is being released into! Maybe we should feed a hose from the tailpipe of the Prius into the passenger cabin when driving in downtown during rush hour so as to avoid breathing in all that smog!

Rush says that the Prius's MPG numbers are fudged! Well duh! Who do you think comes up with those numbers? It's not Toyota, I'll tell you that much! Those numbers are generated by the US government. Toyota stands by the fact that you will get between 45mpg-52mpg on average in the Prius depending on your driving habits. This is less than the 60mpg City listed in the window, true. However, that being said, you certainly CAN get 60mpg in the Prius if you drive it conservatively enough. I have done it myself.

The thing that people need to realize is that NO VEHICLE, driven normally, gets the mileage listed in the window! My understanding is that they ALL, on average, including the Prius, get about 26% less than the mileage listed in the window! When you compare a Hummer to a Prius though, a Hummer getting 7.4mpg instead of the 10pmg indicated in the window seems trivial compared to 44.4mpg instead of the 60mpg indicated in the window. They are both only 26% lower than advertised however.

Rush also states that the Prius has no get up and go. When asked if Rush has ever driven a Prius, his response is "He'd never be caught dead in one of those things!" While this doesn't surprise me in the least, what he doesn't realize is the current Prius goes from 0-60 in 10 seconds! Speaking technically, that level of acceleration is referred to as "pretty darn fast!" (As fast as a Camry, and MUCH faster than a Yugo!) Thanks to its electric motor, which can run simultaneously with the gas engine, the Prius also has more torque than almost any other vehicle on the road! (Nearly as much as a Hummer H2 if you can believe it!)

Rush proclaims that the cost of ownership is higher over 5 years on a hybrid than a comparable non-hybrid vehicle. This of course includes him factoring the $10,000 "premium" people have supposedly paid to buy a hybrid.

In reality, the Prius is one of the first vehicles offered by Toyota to include a maintenance free transmission with only 5 moving parts! (a standard automatic transmission has over 500 moving parts, and requires maintenance every 15,000 miles) The transmission and all hybrid components in the Prius, including the batteries are also maintenance free, and GUARANTEED for 10 years, 150,000 miles in the State of California (and I think 8 years, 100,000 miles in the rest of the country). This is just the warranty however, and Toyota states that the actual life of the transmission, and all hybrid components, including batteries, should exceed the "lifetime of the vehicle" under normal driving conditions. In other words, you should never have to worry about or do anything to those items... EVER.

The ONLY scheduled maintenance even listed in the maintenance guide other than the occasional inspections of components is oil changes! You can also expect the sophisticated regenerative braking aboard the Prius to save you money on brake pads as well.

So basically, Rush's entire argument about the higher cost of ownership of the Prius is based ENTIRELY on his flawed comparison of the Prius to a $12,000 "Yugo," simply because the "Yugo" is cheaper to buy. (I say the Yugo, because there is no such car in existence, comparable to the Prius, at that price range to compare to!) Personally I'd say the Prius is more comparable to a Lexus is300 (which costs more than the Prius), both in ride quality, performance, and amenities. If you want to compare it to a Toyota branded model, the closest match is the Camry XLE, which also has a HIGHER price tag than the Prius!

The bottom line is that you shouldn't believe everything you hear, especially if it comes out of Rush's mouth! If you want to give the Prius a fair shake, then go down to your local Toyota dealership and judge for yourself! I've rarely seen a person walk away from a Prius test drive without a smile on their face, and they are usually headed towards the sales desk!

If you already drive a Prius, you should take a moment to pat yourself on the back! I "get" what you are doing even if Rush doesn't!

Best regards,

David Franklin
Independent Hybrid/Electric Vehicle Consultant