The Prius -- and of course Toyota -- is coming under increasing scrutiny due to the massive recalls for accelerators on Toyota's other models, and the braking recall for the leading hybrid vehicle in the world. Global Green has been getting frequent calls of late to comment on the fate of the Prius as the favored 'green' car of Hollywood, all thanks to the 'take a hybrid to the Oscars' initiative we started and spearheaded for many years.
The Prius has become the top 'green' car in the world due to a passionate following. How did that happen? Well, to start, great engineering and the top performance -- in terms of fuel efficiency and emissions -- of any production car outside of the EV1 produced by GM, which was later stopped (and existing cars crushed, as we well know now thanks to Chris Paine's fantastic Who Killed the Electric Car?).
But the first generation Prius was a bit of a tin can, small and not very attractive. Honda's Civic hybrid was actually an equally well performing car, and looked like a solid, if not traditional, car. Ford had announced plans for their hybrid Escape SUV, but they had not yet hit the road as of January 2003.
It was at that time that Global Green -- through an idea from our board member Jordan Harris, who was inspired by our work with Leonardo DiCaprio in August 2002 to bring attention to the World Summit on Sustainable Development or Johannesburg Earth Summit, the most important environmental meeting in 10 years -- launched our initiative, later coined the "Red Carpet Green Cars campaign.
When Jordan and I started working on the idea, it was a period in the run up to the Iraq war in 2003, and we wanted to provide a way to for celebrities to communicate a message -- without having to utter a word -- of the need to reduce our reliance on foreign oil and the threats of global warming. We were also determined to help make fuel efficient, clean vehicles fun and sexy to drive. A tall task given the offerings at that time,.
We reached out to all the car companies offering a hybrid option at the time -- Honda, Ford, and Toyota -- and only Toyota responded.
That first year Harrison Ford, Calista Flockhart, Cameron Diaz, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, and others were ferried to the Oscars and afterward to all the parties in the first generation Prius. By eschewing a gas-guzzling limo in exchange for the hybrid (and for those in ball gowns, putting their fashion choices and walk down the red carpet at some measure of risk, I suppose), they were living their values and demonstrating that fuel-efficient cars could be sexy, cool cars. Without having to say anything, they sent a message about fighting climate change, increasing fuel efficiency, and moving toward energy independence.
Some might now say, so what? Why is going in a hybrid car such a big deal? At the time, the Prius was not taken seriously, and now the Prius is one of the great success stories for Toyota and for all fuel efficient, low emission vehicles.
We were always interested in promoting alternatives, and we even took Leonardo DiCaprio in a plug-in hybrid (after market), and others in alternative fuel vehicles and all sorts of other fuel efficient cars.
Now however, with questions about the Prius' fate, we can answer the reporters calls' with the good news that while unlikely the Prius will suffer a fall off in interest (full disclosure -- I own and love my Prius), there are many more options today. This is thanks to consumer demand, corporate innovation, and government regulation. Were it not for ZEV mandate in California, it is unlikely that we would have seen the likes of the Prius, or Civic Hybrid.
For Green Car Journal's Greenest Car of the Year jury (of which I am a member), we selected the Audi A3 TDI over the new next generation Prius. Why? Because while the new Prius is a fantastic car, the Audi A3 TDI is remarkable in that it gets 40 mpg and achieves similar emissions standards as the Prius.
Of course the electric car and other plug in hybrid options will soon fill our roads -- from Tesla to Fisker to the Chevy Volt to the Nissan Leaf. While I still would call upon our leaders in Washington to do more in to increase fuel efficiency and lower emissions in all our cars (China has higher standards still than the US), we now have the market -- thanks in great part due to regulation, gas prices, and consumer demand -- providing real options.
And that, regardless of the Prius' fate, is good news. And yes, we will still continue our Red Carpet Green Cars campaign. Heck, we might even see someone ride a bike to the Oscars this year, and we'll have to re-title the campaign.