Full disclosure here: A hybrid just might be my next car. The local parking lot’s “green preferred” spot is nearly always filled with a Prius; my octogenarian aunt just bought a Honda hybrid; and my trendsetting friend Cathy tools around in a Lexus RX. My consumer research has begun. So let me just say, I hope the answer to the title question is, "No."
The history of the Prius reads like a classic modern case study in production and marketing: from government funded R&D under Clinton, to concept car, to prototype, to production version, to withdrawal of government hybrid funding under Bush, then to Internet promotion, and finally to a full scale American marketing campaign.
In our law practice, we have seen very few complaints of hybrid lemons to date. At the same time, our 25+ years handling consumer car cases inform us that most new make and model vehicles need a few years to work out the glitches in design and developing technology. Far from being a detriment to advances in technology, critical consumer feedback can serve the R&D process in a positive way. Toyota, for example, has issued “voluntary” recalls of thousands of Prius vehicles for possible steering shaft assembly problems, in response to numerous complaints. There are other reports of limited service campaigns in 2004-2006 Prius cars, for a variety of problems, although not involving all vehicles. The loudest grumbling appears to be from the fact that owners can't seem to achieve the 50-60 miles per gallon hybrid makers advertise. Let’s hope that Toyota and other manufacturers remain pro-active, eager to replace defective parts with out charge, and otherwise live up to their promises. If you feel they have not done so, we'd like to hear from you.
Since most hybrids are still under factory warranty today, their ultimate longevity remains to be seen. For example, the Prius has a 3 yr/36,000 basic warranty, and a 5 yr/60,000 mile powertrain warranty. The Honda Insight, which billed itself as the “original hybrid” is no longer sold as new, having been superceded by the Accord Hybrid and the Civic Hybrid. Honda advertises the same warranties as Toyota, while noting that the battery has an 8 year, 80,000 mile warranty. That is, frankly, a remarkable promise.
We are keeping our fingers crossed that this new technology will prove effective in reducing defective vehicles while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And we hope that the new hybrids are not green lemons waiting to ripen. Meanwhile, there are many things all consumers can do to be more environmentally conscious, whether or not we drive hybrid cars and trucks.
The State of Michigan , which has a lot at stake here, offers the following “20 tips for Energy Efficient Driving” :
1. Combine trips for shopping and errands.
2. Avoid unnecessary trips. Use the telephone or e-mail to communicate.
3. For short trips, walk or ride a bike.
4. Join a carpool or use public transit to and from work or school.
5. Don’t idle the car for more than one minute
6. Drive the speed limit, or below, for better mileage.
7. Overdrive gears improve the fuel economy of your car during highway driving.
8. Avoid sudden bursts of speed, tailgating and pumping the accelerator pedal...
9. Out on the open highway, keep windows rolled up to reduce drag.
10. Using a vehicle’s air conditioner on a hot summer day can decrease mileage...
11. Travel during off-peak hours when possible.
12. Take the shortest route with the best roads.
13. Use the cruise control -- it can save fuel by maintaining a steady speed.
14. Keep tires at the recommended air pressure.
15. Keep your car engine properly tuned.
16. Remove bicycle and ski racks when not in use.
17. Excess weight uses more fuel. Remove unnecessary items...
18. Use the lowest octane gasoline recommended by the manufacturer.
19. When buying a new car, make fuel efficiency a priority.
20. Don’t buy a bigger engine than you need.