Navigant Research Blog

Happy 10th Birthday to the PvH Prius!

Clint Wheelock — November 17, 2010

I know this is usually a technical blog, but I need to reflect on this day about an important personal anniversary. It was on November 17, 2000, when I drove my shiny new Prius off the lot at Burt Toyota in Englewood, Colorado, making me one of the first people in the Denver area to do so. I have that event to thank more than any other for the happy transition I’ve made in the decade since.

I had a relatively comfortable dot-com job in the summer of 2000, and thought it was finally time to trade in my 1990 Honda Civic. I narrowed it down to a Honda Accord Coupe and a few others, but I didn’t want to make any decisions until I learned more about this “new electric car” that I’d heard about from Toyota.

There was just one Prius at my local dealership when I arrived. They had the hood up, and I couldn’t believe how Toyota managed to cram two engines into a space barely big enough for just one. I took a test drive, and then went home to spend the rest of that night reading everything I could about this car and concept on the Internet (even though most Prius websites at that time were in Japanese!). Despite not usually wanting to be on the bleeding edge of anything, the car’s reasonable price, exceptional warranties, and use of its own momentum as an energy source made this an irresistible opportunity. The Prius was built-to-order back then, so putting down a deposit in August resulted in “my” Prius showing up three months later.

In addition to the usual pride of owning a new car, I was also fascinated with this new (for me, at least) hybrid technology. While I am still much more of a lead-foot than a hyper-miler (my wife regularly gets 5-10 mpg more in the Prius than I do without even trying), I still love how the car’s Consumption display turns all green after driving for a half-hour down a mountain pass at 100+ mpg. And while that is the case for most vehicles coasting downhill, I especially love how the computer turns off the internal combustion engine when idling, even though my lights, HVAC, radio, etc. are all still going strong. As the sacrilegiously funny TV show South Park once described: the smog around my car was soon replaced with a cloud of … smug!

More importantly, however, the Prius made me much more aware of environmental issues in general and energy issues in particular. As the dot-com bubble burst, I began my career transition away from traditional IT to what I then called sustainability issues. In hindsight, I’m sure I could’ve been more successful – or at least quicker – in this transition, but my pestering the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in west Denver, volunteering and later working for the Colorado Renewable Energy Society, and other efforts finally led me to Pike Research. And while I may occasionally be called an “energy expert” by some in the Denver mainstream media, I now prefer to promote the work of actual energy and cleantech experts like Pike Research’s industry analysts.

After 10 years and over 140,000 miles of torturous driving, my Prius is still going strong. I’m also proud of other things that have happened “as a result” of my car-buying decision. I gave countless rides to people who were equally fascinated with hybrid technology, and at least 3-4 of those people told me they bought their own Prius or other hybrid in part thanks to that ride. Toyota’s next version of the Prius would win multiple Car of the Year honors (and hopefully they’ll get back to that level soon!).

As for Burt Toyota: founder LG Chavez recently sold his network of traditional dealerships to focus primarily on electric vehicles and other cleantech concepts.

I continue to give occasional presentations about my Prius experience and my own industry analyses, although they usually morph into more pointed discussions about Peak Oil and other resource-limitation issues. While much of cleantech appears to be driven by the fight against Global Warming and other “tailpipe” issues on the back end, I remain far more concerned with the increasing physical, economic, political, and other constraints placed on our natural resources. Either way, I feel as hopeful as ever about the cleantech industries that have emerged in the decade since I took a chance on that new electric car from Toyota.

Thanks again to Toyota for betting on hybrid technology, and Happy 10th Birthday to my beloved PvH Prius. You’ve got a wash, winterization, and maybe even some detailing coming your way!

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