I think the Toyoto Prius is a great car. It’s efficient and looks cool. However, hybrids are not the panacea for our energy problems they are made out to be. For one, the actual gains in fuel efficiency over a well designed gasoline car is not as great as presumed. In fact, if you mostly do highway driving, it may actually do worse because of the extra weight. A diesel powered car is likely to do better. A more insidious problem is that for the most part car companies are not producing hybrids so that they are more fuel efficient but because they can make for a more powerful engine. Ford and Lexus both have SUV hybrids that don’t have much higher fuel efficiency than their conventional counterparts but do have a lot more horse power. Despite this shortcoming, these cars still get to go on the HOV lanes. Plug-in-hybrids have more promise if they are used around town but won’t be of much help for long haul travel.
I don’t fully blame the car companies because that public likes and wants big powerful cars. I think one reason is the infant car seat. We can barely fit our Britax Roundabout seat into our Honda CRV (yes, we own an SUV but it is mostly a tall Civic). We probably couldn’t get two in and three is definitely out. In the old days, people would just stuff their kids into the back seat. Now, if you have three kids under eight you would need a minivan or equivalent. I’m pretty sure there could be ways to engineer a fuel efficient car that can safely transport three kids but it would require a collaboration between auto manufacturers and car seat companies. Gas would probably have to hit four or five dollars a gallon before such a thing would happen is my guess. Ultimately, we have to change the way we live and work. The demise of the personal car could be the best thing to happen to cities since the invention of the subterranean sewer.