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DayCreek Journal

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What's an AT-SULEV-PZEV?
(Advanced Technology - Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle -  Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle)

I think they need to come up with a better acronym for this car but regardless, the new 2004 Toyota Prius is simply amazing. Here's my brother's (Jim Stankevitz) review:

128 days. That's how long I waited to get my 2004 Prius. It was well worth the wait.

Where to start? There's so much about this car that makes it the best driving experience I've ever had. I had been researching the Prius since 2000, when the first generation of the Prius line was produced. I considered the Prius back then, but it was much too small a vehicle for my family's needs. With two teenage sons, there just wasn't enough room. But, when I first saw the second generation Prius in September, 2003, I knew it would be my next car. The 2004 Prius was bigger (it is classified as a midsize and is 11% larger than the first generation Prius), more powerful (15 % better acceleration than the first generation Prius), more fuel efficient (15% better fuel economy than the first generation prius), and about the same price (as the first generation Prius). I placed an order on October 23 rd with the understanding that there would probably be a 2 - 3 month wait. 4 months turned out to be more realistic.

Of all the great features of this car though, first and foremost, would have to be the Prius' environmental advantages. Technically, the Prius is known as an AT-SULEV-PZEV car. The acronyms mean: Advanced Technology - Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle - Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle. The Prius produces 90% fewer smog-forming pollutants (NO x and hydrocarbons) and 50% fewer heat-trapping greenhouse gases (CO 2 ) than a conventional internal combustion engine . In one year's worth of typical driving, the Prius will produce less air pollutants than from using one gallon of paint! Its EPA ratings are 60 City / 51 Highway / 55 Combined. The BEST MPG of ANY midsize sedan. Yes, that's correct, the city MPG is higher than the highway MPG since in stop and go traffic the electric motor will be used more frequently than the gas engine. Prius goes more than twice as far on a gallon of gasoline as the average car in the U.S.; if all vehicles did that well, it would save the U.S. 1.5 billion barrels of oil a year. Prius' high efficiency and strong power come from the combination of a 76-horse power, 4-cylinder gasoline engine and a 67-horse power electric motor. And it's aerodynamic too: it has one of the lowest drag coefficients, 0.26, of any production vehicle. A thermos-type container stores three liters of coolant at close to boiling temperature for up to three days. When the Power button is pressed to start the car, hot coolant is injected into the engine, avoiding a cold start. This reduces emissions at startup, as well as wear and tear on the engine. To reduce vehicle weight, Toyota's "by-wire" electronic braking, throttle and gear selection means no heavy, mechanical gearing systems are used for these functions. With gas prices climbing ever higher, the Prius' economical advantages are another plus. I estimate I will save between $1200-$1500 in one year based on current pump prices in the Chicago area.

The computer-controlled hybrid technology of the Prius is an amazing technological accomplishment. The batteries that power the electric motor are recharged automatically through normal driving and braking, so you never have to plug it in for recharging. Prius' computer decides when the gasoline engine is necessary and when the electric motor should run. For example, at speeds under 40 MPH, Prius will often operate in the super-quiet "stealth" mode, running on the electric motor only. You can travel up to 3.6 miles without the gas engine ever starting up. At a stoplight you'll think the car is off, as the gas engine is not needed and you wait in absolute quiet. The continuously updated LCD screen lets you know the current MPG and how much electrical energy has been regenerated, making you much more conscious of your driving technique. I must say that my driving technique has dramatically changed since getting the Prius. With the instant feedback on the MPG display, I look far ahead to plan for regeneration: If I see a stoplight or traffic congestion up ahead, I'll take my foot off the accelerator and coast, shutting down the gas engine and charging the batteries along the way. On the interstate, I can set the cruise control for the optimum MPG based on the wind speed and direction, outside temperature, and topography of the route.

On top of all these great environmental reasons to drive a Prius, the standard and additional optional features make this car not only safe, but fun to drive! I won't list them all here, but the standard safety/security features include dual front airbags, traction control, anti-lock brakes, power and heated side view mirrors, superbright LED brake lights and keyless remote entry. The optional side airbags and side curtain airbags, smart entry and smart start, HID (high intensity discharge) headlamps, security alarm, Vehicle Stability Control and auto-dimming rearview mirror give the driver and passengers plenty of added safety and security. On the fun side, standards such as cruise control, automatic electric heating and air conditioning, audio and climate controls buttons on the steering wheel, and 60/40 split rear seats make the drive very enjoyable. Add the optional DVD-based voice activated gps navigation system, Bluetooth-enabled cell phone support, integrated Homelink garage door opener, and the JBL premium audio system, and you'd think you were in a luxury car costing much more than the Prius! Throw in the federal income tax break ($1500 deduction from your gross income - some states offer tax breaks too) you get for taking delivery of a hybrid vehicle, and the real question is why wouldn't you buy a hybrid for your next car?

Right now, the only downside is that if you don't already have one, or have already put in an order, the wait may be very long indeed. Despite Toyota increasing production by 33%, most dealers have either stopped taking orders, or are telling customers they can expect 4-12 month waits. Toyota obviously severely underestimated US (and world) demand for this hybrid vehicle. That's probably a good sign. Perhaps the tide in this country is beginning to turn away from the gas-guzzling monster SUV's towards more environmentally friendly vehicles. Let's hope so! It is also painfully obvious that US car makers have missed a great opportunity here. Despite promises to the contrary, US auto makers seem to have little interest in the hybrid market. With Toyota seeing skyrocketing sales for hybrids this year, US makers have missed a great opportunity to show some foresight and leadership in making environmentally friendly and profitable cars. With more hybrids planned in the near future (Lexus will market a hybrid SUV in the fall of 2004, Toyota's Highlander hybrid will be available in 2005, and in 2006, the hybrid Toyota Camry will be available), hopefully we can reduce our dependence on oil and improve air quality at the same time. Now, if we can just get a hydrogen fuel cell hybrid.

You can follow along with Jim's fuel economy statistics by going to his web page devoted to the Prius. To find out more about the car, visit Toyota's website.