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Wednesday, January 29, 2003

New Wheels, Less Money

We bought a new car over the weekend, a Honda Civic Gas/Electric Hybrid.

We regularly drive to Palm Springs to host our walking tours on the history, architecture and celebrities of the city. I also drive around the wide-ranging County of Los Angeles on my computer coaching. This regularly takes me to the west side of LA and Santa Monica and also out to Malibu. I can easily put several hundred miles per month on our vehicles.

The thought of being able to reduce our gas costs, while also cutting emissions led me to investigate hybrid vehicles. The Civic is probably one of the most "normal looking" of the currently available hybrids. Hybrids use a smaller, more efficient gasoline engine along with an electrical motor. Honda calls it Integrated Motor Assist. Under quick acceleration or hill-climbing, the electric motor engages and assists the gasoline motor. The Civic Hybrid has similar power to its normal, gasoline-only powered cousins.

With a couple of important exceptions, the car drives like a normal automobile. First, there is Auto Stop. When you come to complete stop, say at an intersection or traffic light, the gasoline motor stops completely. When you take your foot off the brake and touch the accelerator, the engine restarts, and you are on your way. Secondly, the Civic has regenerative braking, where the stopping energy generated buy the brakes is used to recharge the motor assist batteries.

The car never needs to be plugged into an outlet and doesn't require the cumbersome and expensive chargers to be installed in your home, or located near your office. The 12 gallon tank yields a theoretical 600 miles at the top MPG rating of 50 miles per gallon. This single-tank distance far surpasses other non-hybrid cars on the road today. City driving reduces the MPG to around 38 and using the air conditioning system full time lowers it farther. There is an economy mode that automatically stops the air conditioning whenever the Auto Stop engages.

Finally, since the Civic Hybrid is an Ultra-low Emission Vehicle (ULEV), the Federal Government is offering a $2000 tax credit. Unfortunately, hybrids can't take advantage of special carpool rules for a unaccompanied driver afforded to fully electric or natural gas-powered vehicles.

After only a week with the new car, I can say we are very pleased. Time will tell how much savings we can gain, but I believe that they will be significant.


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