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Maybe I'm obsessed, but I don't think so...

Original post made by fabravo on Feb 2, 2007

It amazes me how in a relatively short amount of time in a relatively small geographic area, there are what seems like hundreds of Toyota Prius owners. First off, I don't own one, but I have started to notice them more.
Unless you have been living under a rock you know about the explosion of gas and electric 'hybrid' cars coming on the market. Of all the cars like this, it seems like the Prius is the most purchased, at least on the San Francisco Peninsula.
Here's an example of what I am talking about. About two weeks ago, I took a ride with two co-workers (in one of their Prius -- or Prii -- There is some debate on the plural version of Prius: Web Link) from our offices in downtown Palo Alto to the California Avenue area. This is about a two mile, four minute drive. Along this ride, we passed at least six Prius, not counting the one that was parked in the garage of our building that belonged to the other co-worker!
I've noticed this more and more as I have driven around the Bay Area, so I told my wife about this. She said she hadn't noticed it too much but once I told her, she really started noticing the same thing I did!
Here's another example... On Wednesday afternoon, I drove from Palo Alto to the coast and back home. I started counting Prius as I drove. Before I even left the city limits of Palo Alto, I was up to 10. I started keeping tally on a piece of paper not to loose count. By the time I arrived home that evening, I was well over 30!
So, what is it about these things? They aren't cheap (about $30k with all the fixings). Is it the mileage? The 'green' aspect? I'm very curious.

Comments (22)

Posted by A Boomer, a resident of Community Center
on Feb 2, 2007 at 3:02 pm

Within 2 blocks of our home are 8 Priuses and a couple of Honda or Lexus Hybrids.

I was on a business trip to Chicago and NYC about a year ago, and I saw exactly one on that trip. I actually saw one in China last summer, where they are manufactured, but I think they are all exported, so that was a real anomoly.

There is more than a grain of truth that what goes on in this town often is a leading indicator of what will eventually occur elsewhere. The downside to that is that sometimes what we see and think here is not necessarily shared elsewhere, and there can be a disconnect in what we locals view as the way things are, and how they are viewed in other places.

For us, yesterday's "news" is not yet tomorrow's headline for other parts. That is neither good nor bad, but certainly is what I have observed and experienced.

Posted by Walker, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 2, 2007 at 3:06 pm

I am amazed that you have noticed them. They are so quiet that they often sneak up on me and give me quite a fright, or alternatively start moving without any noise. I think that they should be somewhat noisier (seriously). One day there will be a serious accident because someone (perhaps a blind person) gets in the way of one of these quiet cars.

Posted by Dan, a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 2, 2007 at 3:27 pm

Certain hybrids are allowed to travel in the car-pool lane on major local highways. That is the one of the big draws. The 'green' factor is cool, apparently. Hybrids get better gas mileage, because (largely) of regenerative braking.

Plug-in hybrids will be the next version. Their gas mileage will be even higher. However, since energy is neither created nor destroyed, the potentially huge new demand for electrcity will need to be addressed. There is no free lunch.

Posted by Honda Hybrid driver, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 2, 2007 at 5:18 pm

I travel a great deal and, without doing any actual measurement, am fairly sure that Palo Alto has the highest concentration of hybrid cars on the planet.

I was in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area recently, visiting some friends who are very well-off and live in an incredibly affluent gated community. I saw zero hybrids there. In my four days in the area, I saw all of one on the road, and I spent most of my four days driving around.

I think that as Palo Altans replace older cars, they are choosing hybrids instead of the usual gas-only cars. That's what happened in my household. I have another car about to go to that big parking log in the sky, and I will replace it with a hybrid as well.

Yes, the tax breaks are nice, and so is driving solo in the carpool lane. But my decision took in more factors than that, including trying to be less of a contributor to pollution.

Yes, hybrids are more expensive than gas-only cars. But I felt I would rather send some money to a smart engineer than to a bunch of religious fanatics. I doubt I am alone in supporting engineering over terrorism.

Posted by Syndrom Analysis, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 3, 2007 at 7:17 am

You seem to have what is called "Prius Eyes Syndrome". If you have it in both eyes it is called "Prii Eyes Syndrome".
When you are in the throws of this next time (counting) you should count the prius and the total number of cars that pass. Then find the percentage of Prius vis-a-vis All Cars.
Doing so will most certainly lead to a cure. If not, try alternative medicine. If not, do the same count for honda civics, then write a book.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 3, 2007 at 4:59 pm

Hybrides are neat. A hybred with a constant speed diesel would be neater. A plug-in hybred wih constant speed bio diesel would give you bragging rights foe a while. A plug-in hybred with constant speed bio diesel and an inverter to serve as an emergency generator for your house and you would need to take pills to erase smug lines.

Posted by Dan, a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 3, 2007 at 7:49 pm

W. Wallis, the problem with internal combution engines is that they produce air pollutants, because they compress air at high temperature. I think a better ideal example would be a hydrogen fuel cell engine (which could also be use as a generator in emergencies). That is future technology, but we already know about gas turbines (Andy Granatelli won an Indy 500 using one, before it got banned, because it was too efficient). Why not a hydrogen tubine hybrid car? It would be very low on emissions and would leave no carbon footprint, assuming that the electricity to produce the hydrogen was generated by wind or solar or nuclear.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 3, 2007 at 9:47 pm

Granitalli's turbine was banned because It could not be limited in horsepower as readily as an internal combustion engine, and Indy limits all engines to make a race of it. Turbines are seldom as efficient as internal combustion engines as Chrysler found out when they ran some turbine cars. The problem is the need to reclaim exhaust heat that requires massive heat exchangers.
There are no hydrogen wells, and the ways to generate hydrogen are energy hogs and/or pollution creators.

Posted by fabravo, a resident of another community
on Feb 4, 2007 at 7:45 am

Syndrom Analysis, I think that the actual percentage vs. all other cars is probably very small, but the point that I was trying to make is that if you pick ANY other make and model of car, you will not see as many on the road as you do of the Toyota Prius.

It sort of reminds me of the mid-1990s when there seemed to be a lot of Ford Taurus on the road, or Honda Civics before that.

Posted by Dan, a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 4, 2007 at 3:33 pm

W. Wallis, gas turbines, as a I remember, are very efficient at high RPM. They are also compact, with more horsepower per unit weight. I thought that the main issue with them, with respect to cars, is that they are not good in the variable power cycle. That is why I suggested that the turbine be combined with electical drive motors and batteries (hybrids). When the tubine is needed, it could be maintained at high RPM.

I thought that Chrysler got out of the game for financial reasons, not engineering reasons. However, you may know more about it than me.

Posted by Insight, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 5, 2007 at 10:22 am

Yes, yes, all good points. But the question remains: Who Killed the Electric Car?
Web Link

Posted by Dan, a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 5, 2007 at 1:56 pm

Insight, I believe the all electric car was killed off by lack of actual demand. As I recall, there were many promised lease contracts, but when it came time to put the money on the line, there were very few contracts signed. Correct me if I am wrong. The few owners of the AEV were mostly strong supporters of it. However, there was not a critical mass to keep it going. I think it provided some good research opportunities for GM, like regenerative braking. That is a good thing.

The problem with electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles is that they require electricty from the grid. Where will this electrcity come from, if such vehcicle really take off? Many electric vehicle enthusiasts get really excited, because they think they can just plug it in at night, then go on their merry way. They are somewhat like city kids who think milk comes from cartons.

Posted by RS, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 5, 2007 at 2:21 pm

Well, no, I think its not that simplistic

The theory with that you can recharge the plug-in with greener sources, so is the eletric source or a prius gas engine cleaner.
So I suppose that depends on the source of the electric. If I use
solar panels on my roof top for example, is that cleaner than the prius gas engine?

So can one get a solar panel that is built clean enough to justify that type of a set up?

Can any style plants be filtered better than a car engine for the same amount of energy?

If its just an ecomonic question, not a green house gas question. There is evidence that a mile by electricity in a plug-in prius can be done more cheaply than a mile by a non-plugin prius.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 5, 2007 at 7:30 pm

Come up with a turbine heat exchanger with a 90% efficiency, a weight of 10 pounds and a pressure drop under 0.05" water and collect your fortune. Chrysler dropped the turbine because of lousy efficience and worse acceleration. For efficiency the small high speed diesel in unbeatable by any availabl engine.

Posted by Dan, a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 5, 2007 at 7:41 pm

RS, Solar panels don't work at night, so you will need to charge your car during the day. Alternatively, you can pump back electrons into the grid during the day and extract them back during the night. However, the real question is how many square feet of solar panel is necessary to charge an electic vehicle battery under standard conditions.

For the sake of simplicity, I am ignoring all energy costs associated with actual manufacture and installation of any given system. However, the carbon footprint is not the same across systems. Only wind, hydro, solar and nuclear get around that problem, in terms of electicity generation.

Posted by Dan, a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 5, 2007 at 8:07 pm

W.Wallis, my memory of the Chrysler gas turbine was that it was being driven incorrectly by their beta testers. I think it had to do with the drivers allowing the tubine to drop down to low RPMs. If the RPMs are kept up, there are very few engines tha can beat the gas turbine for acceleration. It was a long time ago, so my memory is a little foggy, but I think Chrysler was about to go into production with the gas tubine engine, before it ran into financial difficulties.

I'm not sure that heat removal is still a big issue, although it used to be considered one. I have heard that new materials and designs seem to be able to overcome the problem.

High speed diesel is, indeed very efficient, but it still is carbon-based. I am trying to think about a low carbon footprint engine. I think the gas turbines are very efficient, if they are kept at high RPM. They also nearly eliminate the nitrous oxide pollution problem that is inherent with the piston engine. If a gas turbine is run with hydrogen it could, theoretically, eliminate both the carbon footprint and nitrous oxide issues.

Posted by RS, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 5, 2007 at 10:22 pm

Yes, if one were to do this with solar, using the grid to "store" the electricity would be the way to go. Right now, I just decrease the gas usage of my car by riding my bike as much as I can. Cheaper than a hybrid replacement and healthier for me.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 6, 2007 at 7:22 am

The issue is heat exchange, not heat removal. Heat in the exhaust is waste, so exhaust gas heat needs to be transfered to the incoming air. And you are wrong about Chrysler. Check Tom McCahill's test if you can find it.

Posted by Dan, a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 6, 2007 at 4:08 pm

W. Wallis, I thought the heat exhchage issue was at least partially solved by the variable recuperator, which injects hot exhaust gas back to the fresh air compression phase. Is that what you are talking about, in terms of limitations?

I will try to find the real story about Chrysler... I may have forgotten the details.

Posted by Dan, a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 6, 2007 at 5:11 pm

W. Wallis, I found the following link that gives an overview of the Chrysler experience with the gas turbine engine:

Web Link

The bottom line seems to be the following quote, although the entire article should be read for context.

"Immediately after this massive experiment, Chrysler sought earnestly to put a turbine car into production. "We had the tooling," recounts Huebner: "had bought the tools and laid out the production line for a much larger run of vehicles. Those would have appeared as 1966 models. So it became a serious project. Very serious, and it remained serious through 1973 and '74. There were still plans to bring out a limited production run of vehicles. The NOx problem had been put to rest, and the production vehicles would have been successful. The problem was, though, that Chrysler Corp. went sort of broke at that point. The money ran out."

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2007 at 7:40 pm

The article pretty well confirms my [and Tom McCahill's] opinion.
When the 727 first came out, there were a few crashes until the pilots learned to spool up in the landing pattern. A constant speed turbine with an extremely good heat exchanger, driving a generator, might work. Direct drive, no way Jose.

Posted by ashiko, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2007 at 10:12 pm

fabravo asked: "Is it the mileage?"

I have a Prius. On a good day, I get about 54 MPG. On an average day, I get about 49 MPG. I get about 400 miles per tank.

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