At one point I considered buying a Prius. I even put down a (refundable) deposit to reserve a soon-to-arrive car. Then I did some research while I waited and came to this realization stated concisely by Reihan Salam:
Consider the eco-conscious automobile par excellence, the Toyota Prius. As it turns out, manufacturing the Prius’s battery is extraordinarily carbon-intensive. Paying off this carbon debt through fuel savings will take 46,000 miles, according to Wired. Only after 100,000 miles would the Prius catch up with carbon savings offered by a ten-year-old Toyota Tercel. And the Prius would never catch up with a 1994 Geo Metro XFi.
I’ve driven approximately 80,000 miles since the beginning of 1999. I’m on my third car. Knowing my driving and buying pattern, the Prius makes no sense from a “green” perspective.
I wasn’t primarily trying to go green. I wanted the excellent MPG. The numerous (anecdotal) reports of much-lower-than-advertised MPG results convinced me that the extra cost was not worth the risk.
Link via Andrew Sullivan.
UPDATE: This reader dissent to Andrew Sullivan’s original post makes useful points. In my case, only the “46,000 miles” argument was relevant since I bought a new MINI instead of a ten-year-old Tercel. It’s also possible that I didn’t take a long-enough view into the future. Fair points.
I still love my MINI more than I ever would’ve loved a Prius.