Chariots for green-minded politicosBy Tessa R. Salazar
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Second in a series
The month of hearts isn’t over, folks. Inquirer Motoring continues its match-making series for political wannabes and the vehicles that would best suit their personalities and platforms. This week, let’s take a closer look at the hybrids.
Picture a political candidate who caresses the leaves of trees and pets animals lovingly, as if he or she had a connection with such creatures. Then he or she cries (or frowns, at least) over scenes depicting massive deforestation, rampant mining, and wanton disposal of garbage. In the final scene, he or she vows to sweep this country clean of Mother Nature’s enemies. Now there’s your nature crusader, riding on the wave of new-generation thinking that to harm the Earth would be to harm humans, and a vote for him or her would translate to a vote for Mother Nature. Sincere intentions, or not, the candidate could go on a fast roll to the polls when he or she considers riding and driving around in these eco-friendly conveyances:
1. The Toyota Prius. Now this can bring about a landslide win among the environment conscious, figuratively speaking. This hybrid gasoline-electric car has been named as among the 50 cars in automotive history to have changed the world. And this could change the game for an election aspirant wanting to change more than the political environment.
The Prius, by itself, has been helping shift paradigms in the motoring consciousness. Long before before the efforts to consolidate legislature to ease the economic burden of selling and buying eco-friendly vehicles in the Philippines, Toyota Motor Philippines had already taken the initiative to introduce to the local market the virtues of hybrid cars, taking a bold gamble by introducing the Prius to an untested market that offered no government incentives for hybrid cars.
Elsewhere in the world, though, the Prius is already well-embedded in society, with over 3 million units sold, and helping reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 18 million tons compared to conventional sedans of similar size and power.
Owning an icon, though, wouldn’t be cheap. And an earth-lover would have to dig really deep to cough up P2.250 million to acquire this most recognizable eco-sedan.
But the newer the Prius, the better. The third-generation Prius has a snappier design compared to the older iterations. But whatever the version, the Prius’ message is the same. “So universally has the streamline shape of the current Toyota Prius become identified with the concept of planet-saving, socially conscious motoring that the words ‘Prius’ and ‘hybrid’ have become interchangeable,” say car experts Stephen Newbury and Tony Lewin. “As far as consumers are concerned, Toyota owns hybrid.”
It also helps that when the TV news cameras are trained on the Prius interior, the candidate would have a reason to smile, the bridge-style center console and an unusual-looking gear selector conveying the image of a futuristic vehicle.
The huge space at the rear, all of 445 liters, would also accommodate various campaign paraphernalia (all biodegradable, of course).
The less expensive, smaller and funkier Prius C would suit shorter campaign sorties.
2. The Lexus hybrids. If money is no object, and the candidate finds the Prius too down-to-earth, then he or she can choose to own its luxurious sister, the Lexus hybrid brands.
Lexus, in fact, has put more hybrids on the road than any other manufacturer in the Philippines. It carries a full lineup of hybrids: the Lexus CT 200h (a compact luxury hybrid at P2.388 million, F-Sport version is P2.968 million); Lexus GS 450h (a midsize luxury sports hybrid sedan at P5.478 million); Lexus RX 450h (compact luxury hybrid SUV at P4.878 million); Lexus LS 600hL (large luxury hybrid limousine at P9.088 million for a five-seater, and P10.088 million for a four-seater).
The entry-level luxury vehicle CT 200h rides stable even on twisty roads. While the Prius has three driving modes—EV, Eco and Power—the CT200h has the additional Sport mode. Here’s a thoughtful touch: The CT200h is installed with bamboo and charcoal speakers.
For sorties off the beaten path, the hybrid four-wheel-drive SUV RX 450h, Lexus’ first hybrid SUV, can be up to the job. It’s equipped with part-time four-wheel drive with rear drive provided by electric motors instead of the differential to save weight without compromising drivability.
The reverse gear in its CVT (continuous variable transmission) is replaced by electric motors running in reverse, saving space and weight. All Lexus hybrids are also equipped with a pedal travel indicator that guides the driver in fuel-efficient driving.
3. Mercedes-Benz S 400h. This hybrid will definitely eat a significant chunk of campaign funds, that’s for sure, but in exchange, the candidate gets instant recognition with the “Chedeng” insignia. The Mercedes Benz S 400h can be had for a whopping P10 million plus. The S-Class has been claimed as the most efficient luxury saloon in the world.
According to its engineers, its combined drive system, comprising a powerful 6-cylinder petrol engine and a high-torque electric motor, operates economically and with minimum environmental impact. Together with its optimized aerodynamics, kinetic energy recovery, ECO start/stop function and tires with low rolling resistance, consumption levels of only 7.9 to 8.2 liters for every 100 km (combined city and highway driving) and CO2 emissions of just 186 to 191 g/km (combined) are achieved.
4. Honda Insight. For the environmentalist candidate who wants to blend in and be among his or her public, no other hybrid can do the job better than the Honda Insight, which looks initially just like any other neatly designed Honda sedan, until you start driving it.
The candidate who chooses to ride an Insight can be confident that the brand is true to its word, with Honda being cited by the Union of Concerned Scientists as the United States’ Greenest Automaker for the fifth time in a row (based on a UCS analysis of fleetwide global warming and smog emissions data from 2008 model year vehicles). Many gearheads that Inquirer Motoring has spoken to do look forward to driving Honda hybrids in the near future.
The Insight easily blends in with mainstream-looking sedans. Unfortunately though, this sedan isn’t in the Philippine market yet. Similar to the Prius in terms of size and proportion, the Insight is also designed with aerodynamics carefully factored in. There is little attempt for it to look and feel complicated, and if one observes the dashboard configuration, forward-thinking engineering is put at the forefront. Its Integrated Motor Assist and engine auto-stop (which happens when the car waits at a stop sign, for instance) helps the 1.3-liter i-VTEC 4-cylinder SOHC, 8-valve engine achieve more efficient fuel consumption even in city drives. The sedan is surprisingly responsive, even in the Eco Mode. There is an “S” (Sport mode) for a truly zippy ride last felt in the City Type Z models. Driving on combined city and highway has yielded for the Insight driver 16 to 18 km/liter at a 30-kph average speed.
Though we expect the green-minded candidate to make house-to-house stops (segregating the garbage while at it), he or she would surely make less stops at the gas stations.
5. Honda CR-Z. Now who says environmentalism should be populated by bland creatures with no taste for adventure? The Honda CR-Z is touted as the world’s first compact coupe to incorporate a hybrid powertrain. It has been described by auto expert Tony Lewin as a hybrid that seeks to combine the classical driving thrills of a responsive sports car with the modern notion of environmental responsibility and low CO2 emissions.
Though both the CR-Z and the Insight are as yet not being officially distributed in the Philippines, there’s nothing a green-minded candidate can’t achieve if he or she employs the forces of nature to achieve victory.
(To be continued)