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Is it zippy? When you step on the gas does it go, or does it hestitate? I like a zippy car, but there are also many times I need to step on the gas to avoid an accident..

I'm in the market for a new car this year (my bright red Nissan is 18 yrs old and dying!) and the Prius is on my list to look at.

It's pretty zippy, good acceleration, smooth transitions between the electric and gas engines, very little hesitation -- although we have yet to try it out on the freeway -- that'll happen this weekend; we're driving it to Vegas for a couple of days. We'll let you know!

Did I mention the Back-Up Cam? So much cool stuff to explore...

"The Prius actually "captures" the heat (how? I have no idea, but they call it "regenerative braking") and recycles it to keep the battery charged."

When you step on the brakes moderately, the normal brakes don't engage. Instead the electric motor is used as a generator, so the kinetic energy of the car is converted into electricity instead of heat. If you try breaking with inceasing forcefullness, then you can probably figure out at what point the friction brakes take over. You may also get whiplash.

Hi Jennifer!

This is the kiwi chick with the weird, geeky, and too much schooling background you met in Chicago when you were here for the Buffy book ... finally figured I would get off my arse and start having some presence here like you invited me to ... so hey! *waves*

To me taking a green approach to transportation is more than just about the kind of transportation one uses. I live in Chicago and the public trans here rocks (it has its problems of course, but what doesn't?). I don't have a car and very VERY rarely do I ever feel like I need one (though I will say sub-zero F days with blizzards howling past you do make the exception on that one).

It's also about things such as where and how you live. Picking cities to live and work in where there is public trans and investment in public trans. Living in areas where one had walkable grocery stores that one can use as part of one's everyday routine (no huge weekly, fortnightly or monthly shops), and living in high density living arrangements (apartment buildings, condos, row-house townhomes, all mean your individual footprint is WAY LESS. One doesn't really need a house in the suburbs really, one can get along fine with way less space than our culture says we need.

Now, I know this isn't possible for all people, especially in the more western cities which are car-centric. But the thing is, if we all started putting pressure through our feet (so to speak) in demanding these things, then they would be built. And we need to stop letting people feel okay for not choosing better options. Sure, it may annoy and irritate some people, but as scientists we have to admit, the time has passed for our planet for us to be placating people.

Now, I am no hippy ... hell, I'm a guppie (gay yuppie *smile*), but I fully intend to as much as possible align myself with such things as dense living arrangements, downtown living, access to public trans, etc, etc. Am I going to succeed in totality? Probably not, and like your compromise with making sure you purchased the Prius (congrats btw!), I am going to have to work out compromises. But we need to work on the things that cause use to need to use cars, and look to the bigger picture on things.

That all said, I am going to seriously geek on the tech in the Prius too :)

Thanks to LabLemming for explaining that whole "regenerative braking" thing -- I hoped one of the commenters would come through with some useful insights....

And a big hi to Sarah! Like you, I'm fond of city dwelling, and dislike the suburbs, and you're certainly correct that this sort of lifestyle leaves a smaller "carbon footprint." I'm just leery of imposing my own personal lifestyle preference on the population as a whole: there are lots of people who LOATHE big cities, and prefer suburban or even more rural settings, eg, my sister and her family live in the wilds of Craig, Alaska. I think we start to tread on dangerous ground when we say everyone should live like us -- it smacks of the Chrstian fundamentalist mind set, among other things.

Which is not to say we shouldn't push for better options, as you said, and be willing to make some reasonable compromises. Shared vehicle programs are one way to do this -- an excellent option for those who only need a car occasionally, to run errands. No major city should lack a direct public transportation route to major airports and other hubs. And there's absolutely no reason NOT to make hybrid versions of most (if not all) newly manufactured cars, light trucks and SUVs; the technology keeps getting better, precisely because more poeple are buying hybrid cars and increasing market demand. Change is going to be market-driven when it comes to cars, plain and simple.

The good news is that one reason for the Prius' declining sales is NOT lack of consumer interest, but the availability of several other purchase options as more car manufacturers start to jump on the hybrid bandwagon. There's even a luxury electric car, the Tesla, under development, although its $100K sticker price and limited availability (there's a waiting list) mean it's not a feasible option for most folks.

Ultimately, though, it has to be a matter of choice, and that's going to require some lifestyle changes. We had a quintessential LA moment this week, when Sean and I walked the 1.25 miles from our apartment to the Toyota dealership. This shocked the salesman, who kept offering to drive us home. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, perfect for a walk, and that's not something that should strike poeple as extraordinary. But there you go...

I'm just leery of imposing my own personal lifestyle preference on the population as a whole: there are lots of people who LOATHE big cities, and prefer suburban or even more rural settings, eg, my sister and her family live in the wilds of Craig, Alaska. I think we start to tread on dangerous ground when we say everyone should live like us -- it smacks of the Chrstian fundamentalist mind set, among other things.

*nods* I agree to a certain extent, and maybe it's because I am a foreigner here, but I don't think that matters of individual preference, likes/dislikes, should rule as an arbiter of what should be done. Yeah, we should make sure we look at the fundamentalists to ensure we don't end up like them *shudder*, but that doesn't mean we need to validate all choices. Just because someone likes something and has the right to do so doesn't make it the correct thing to do on a scientific basis.

I think people just have to realise that they are going to have to make some changes, and some of them they probably won't like that much. Trust me, as much as I love public trans, putting up with leering and grasping guys on that is something I wish I could do without.

Oh, and yeah, have read up about the Tesla ... it's SERIOUSLY cool (not to mention the name itself of course *smile*) ... and thanks for the welcome! :)

Ah, bugger ... looks like there is a limit on html tags ... apolos, that first paragraph above was supposed to be in italics as a quote :)

Sarah--that kind of lifestyle is not very attractive for families you know...

Hey Jennifer! Congratulations on your new car! Damian and I are considering a Prius for when we come back to the States next year. It'll counterbalance the gas-guzzler we own now... Actually, our car now gets decent gas mileage, but because gas is so damn pricey these days, it's painful everytime we fill the tank. Anyway, as I'm sure you'll spend much time inside your zippy, little Prius, here's to the beginning of a beautiful relationship! ;-)

P.S. Sarah--I think a lot of people would argue that having the choice to live in the city or the suburbs or out in the middle of nowhere is at the core of being/living in America. I love the city life (as long as it's not NYC--it's just too overwhelming for me!), but my parents feel like they're suffocating in a place like Baltimore where the streets are too narrow and the houses too close together. They love wide, open spaces. Natural gardeners, they grow their own vegetables in their backyard and spend hours planting and pruning the flowers in front of the house. This is what makes them (and tons of other people) happy. I agree that we should be more attentive to the environment that we live in, the effects of the resources we use, and the "footprints" we leave on this earth. Yet, at the same time, I don't think we should be so negative all the time. We hear constantly about how if we don't save the earth, our futures are doomed; we're killing ourselves; there's no hope for our children, etc., etc... I don't think that's fair to all the people/organizations that have made so many positive strides toward improving our environment. I mean, at least we have emissions standards, we have recycling programs, and most of all we have *knowledge* (though sometimes quite limited) about the harmful effects of pollution. Having been to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, where I had difficulty breathing, where I coughed up the smog of the city on a daily basis, where people burned trash outside their homes, and where the raindrops were actually black with pollution, I think we're doing pretty well. So, all this to say that we have a choice, and many of our choices have been good ones. We can't force people to change their lifestyles, to live in high-density buildings, or to buy groceries on a daily basis as they walk home from work. Taking away our freedom to choose would take us somewhere none of us would like to go, even if the end result is "justified".

If everything goes OK I think I'll be in the market for a new car in six months or so and I will be looking at Priuses as well as Honda hybrids. Hopefully in 5 years or so, Tesla Roadster and similar competitors will be something I can afford.

I'm shocked that a physicist buying a Prius had no idea that its basic operating principle is that a motor and a generator are the same thing. I use a little hand generator with a 1F capacitor to demonstrate that every semester when I teach a general education physical science class. The efficiency of this process is limited only by mechanical friction losses in the motor and drive train and chemical ones in the battery. No Carnot problems with turning heat back into mechanical (or electrical) energy. The motor/generator also steals from the gas motor to recharge the batteries, if needed.

Note to Jennifer: The regenerative braking is used 100% (no brakes at all) at light brake pressure. You get the most efficiency if you drive smoothly and anticipate your braking. Hard stops are all friction.

The electric motor is also the answer to the question Joanne asked. Electric motors have lots of torque, so hybrids have excellent behavior pulling out into traffic. We have had an Insight since 2001 (lifetime mileage 55 mpg), and it accelerates great from a stop. I'd even compare it favorably to my Miata from 0 to 20, but it is not as good from 50 to 70 (2-lane passing, rare these days).

The physics/engineering concept is that the gas motor is used at constant rpm (steady driving) when it is most efficient, and the electric motor is used for starting (when you need torque). This means the gas motor can be designed differently (trading efficiency for torque) as well as being made smaller. It adds an extra equation to the optimization problem, as it were.

"cache" = hiding place
"cachet" = aura of coolness.

Please make a note of it.

I'm shocked, shocked, that a PhD physicist wouldn't bother to read the "About" page before assuming I'm a physicist. :) I'm a science writer and interested layperson, with no pretensions otherwise. But even if I WERE a physicist, it's perfectly feasible to make an informed decision on purchasing a Prius without bothering with the more minute details of its proof of princple. It's possible to own an iPod with only the broadest sense of how it works. Or own a cat without understanding its entire genetic code. :) That said, thanks for making my point more clearly than I did in the blog post about the ingenuity of the Prius.

Update on performance: We drove it to Vegas and back, and despite the fact that there were some very long uphill stretches (and downhill, in fairness) on a desert/mountain highway, we still averaged around 42-43 MPG... with gas topping $3 a gallon, that's a pretty decent money saver. We definitely get better mileage in the city, esp. stop and go traffic, making the car ideal for Los Angeles driving conditions.

If only I'd done better at the poker tables... At least Future Spouse kicked butt...

Hmm, I don't wish to diminish your new automotive love, but there are a lot of hidden environmental costs in a Prius. There's a lengthy report and discussion here:

In general, these costs are reflected in the price of a vehicle.

My car has another statement. It says i'm cheap. Proud of it, too.

It's a 2000 Saturn SL - 5 speed manual, 1.9 liter 4 banger, 4 door sedan. In 2006, the Kelly Blue book price on this 150,000 mile car was about $1400. I paid less for various reasons. For example, i spent 6 hours of quality time with a drill and bailing wire and put the bumpers back on. These bumpers have since survived two more incidents without apparent additional damage. The plastic fenders also do not show injury.

The EPA rating is 40 MPG highway - which is nearly all my driving. My average so far is above 43 MPG. That's because i mostly drive 100 KPH (62 MPH) instead of the Michigan 70 MPH limit. It's perfectly legal to go a little slower. It doesn't lengthen my commute in a measurable way. That's dominated by traffic.

Part of the higher gas mileage comes from being a fairly small, light car with a fairly small engine. The 5 speed manual transmission lets me have better performance from this smaller engine. At highway speed, a car only needs about 15 horsepower. An engine that can deliver 300 HP isn't going to be able to do this efficiently. So, the Prius engine is small too. That's OK, because it has the electric assist for getting on the highway, etc.

One could get much the same effect with a 2 engine design. Perhaps one with 20 HP, and the other with 200 HP. This would make for a hellishly complicated transmission, but a simple solution exists: electric. Electric motor/generators are up to 97 percent efficient. So a pair - one at the engine, another at the wheel, gives you a 6 percent loss. This compares favorably with mechanical transmissions. A differential alone consumes 7 to 15 percent. And the electric transmission doesn't need one. Further, even if your big engine dies, the little one would get you home.

43 MPG isn't as good as the Prius, but i also didn't spend much on the car. And, it's well above the 30 MPG or less of typical cars. One might expect that as the cost of gas increases, people will move to smaller cars, or hybrids.

I said it speaks "cheap". No bluetooth. Just AM/FM. Front speakers only. But it's big enough for my telescope. What else could i want?

Sorry for not reading the "about". You should be flattered that I thought you had a physics degree based on other things I have read here.

Stop and go is where these cars are at their best, but you have to anticipate braking to get the most out of it. However, just having the motor shut off when you stop is a really big plus in bad traffic.

Stephen, there are "2 motor" designs out there. GM has a motor developed in the now defunct Olds division that shuts down cylinders that are not needed. I don't know its performance, but it's probably not very good on the scale discussed here. (It was a big V8 to start with.) The biggest cost of the electric-gas hybrid is the mass of the batteries. Improvements in that technology, boring as that old-fashioned chemistry might be compared to quantum field theory, is where advances will happen.

An iPod is run by tiny troll musicians inside. ;-) That plus sophisticated battery technology, not to mention tiny magnets with a high strength-to-weight ratio so headphones can be replaced by earbuds. You might look into writing about the huge advances in mundane technologies that were required to shrink cell phones down to what they are now.

I have ridden a bike in LA for the last 5 years. I own a car, but have clocked less than 10,000 miles on it in that time, much of that on vacations. It's totally possible to get around LA on a bike. A 5 miles commute only takes 35 minutes. It takes me less than an hour to get to East Hollywood from Westwood. I can be in Pasadena in 2.3 hours (a friend of mine who is in really good shape can bike to Pasadena in 1.5 hours from Westwood). If you combine bicycles with buses, you're in business. Try it out - it is so liberating to fly through traffic on Friday at 6pm while all the other suckers wait!

It will be interesting to hear your long-term average fuel economy. I have read and heard that the Prius often does not achieve its rated fuel mileage. I currently drive a VW diesel, which averages 48-50 mpg, essentially no matter how hard I drive it. The latest ultra-low-sulfur diesel will allow cleaner diesels, and I think a new, clean diesel hybrid might be a signficant step up in fuel economy once they reach the market.

Congratulations on your choice! You'll see in my March 12 post that I've been driving a Prius around California. The pushbutton start is a favourite feature.

I've seen a post where he tells you how you can use the electric motor exclusively when you want. The feature is on Prius' in europe and japan but in the US no.
Here's a link:

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    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
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      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
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    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
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      .5 oz. dark rum
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      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.