The Toyota Prius is hybrid-electric car. Like most Singaporeans, my knowledge of it extends to: “Every time you drive it, a dead tree comes back to life. Or something.” The Prius is also a green symbol, with celebrity owners like Larry David and Woody Harrelson. It’s such a powerful, politically correct statement on environmentalism; I half expect pandas to break into applause when you drive by in one. But before buying a Prius in Singapore, weigh the pros and cons:
I met up with a Prius owning buddy, who just wanted to be known as Nathan. He bought a Prius four months ago, despite insane COE prices. He obviously hasn’t shown it off enough, since he talks about it EVERY TWO MINUTES. Whilst not a font of wisdom (or even basic sanity), Nathan is ideal for this article.
What’s the Big Deal about a Prius?
The Toyota Prius is a hybrid-electric car, which runs partly on petrol and partly on electricity. At an average fuel consumption of 4.7 litres / 100km, it’s supposedly lighter on the pocket. According to organizations like America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Prius’s emissions are cleaner than your browser history when dad needs your laptop.
The early Prius models (they go all the way back to the 90′s) weren’t as convenient. Raj believes a lot of misconceptions stem from the first Prius model. He wants us to know the following are myths:
- Recharging the battery – You never have to recharge the battery.
- Changing the battery – The battery is made to last 10 years. You’ll be scrapping by then.
- Drive to Jurong for Petrol – That’s for compressed natural gas (CNG) cars. The Prius runs on regular petrol.
- You Get Fuel Rebates – No, the rebate applies to the vehicle (see below).
- Green cars are cheaper – In the sense that you use less petrol. The actual car itself is quite expensive for a non-luxury model.
The Pros of Owning a Prius
There are many upsides to owning a Prius. Most of them are obscure because of the vehicle’s novelty; only 2100 out of some 550,000 Singaporean cars (0.4%) are hybrid-electrics. And Nathan thinks we’re missing out on the following:
- Massive savings on petrol
- Government rebates
- Silent running
- Environmental benefits
1. Massive Savings on Petrol
As mentioned before, the Prius saves a ton on petrol. Nathan says that:
“The first time I was driving it, I got about 20 km before I realized that: Hey! I only burned one litre. To me it feels like I’m riding my scooter again. When the petrol prices go up, I’m going to be less worried. I think this is the best thing.
In Singapore, you know how our roads are. So many traffic lights. It’s always start-stop. If you drive other cars, your petrol will burn up very fast. But this car recharges the battery when I brake. And the on-board system will cut off the engine when I stop. Ends up I save quite a lot.”
Nathan estimates that his petrol bills have gone down by a third (His previous vehicle was a Honda Civic; the scooter was before that). He adds that:
“Actually it’s higher than that, if you consider that now I drive more. One reason I got the car was to send my wife, she’s pregnant now. So I’m driving more, and I’m still cutting the petrol cost.”
2. Government Rebates
Nathan got a rebate from the National Environment Agency’s Green Vehicle Rebate:
“The Green Vehicle Rebate (GVR) gave back 40% on the car registration tax. One of the factors for my decision was that, actually, the GVR was supposed to stop this year. So when they announced it would carry to December 2012, that sealed the deal for me.
Even with 40%, the Prius won’t be the cheapest car. But when you combine it with the petrol saving, it’s quite worth it.”
3. Silent Running
Inside the Prius, Nathan floors the accelerator to prove his point. It’s so quiet, you can hear every nuance of my womanly screams. The Prius doesn’t make a sound until it hits about 2000 rpm (I think; my eyes were closed). Even then, it’s nothing more than an occasional vacuum cleaner sound. Nathan says:
“One good thing about this car is it’s easy to have conversations. Very little engine noise, very little road noise also. To me this is important, because after work, driving back, I need the quiet.”
4. Environmental Benefits
Nathan mentioned the environmental responsibility of Prius owners. This coming from a man who rated Free Willy a no-stars movie:
“The carbon emissions from the Prius are very low, even lower than CNG vehicles. I think that’s why the GRV didn’t extend to CNG cars*, but hybrids still qualify. I think governments have no choice but to look at sustainable living these days. The oil running out, and the pollution getting worse…
I think eventually Singapore will also have emissions tax. If it happens I won’t have to worry.”
* Nathan is probably wrong. The reason the rebate won’t extend to CNGs is probably because Singapore makes its money from fuel refinement; the government makes no money off natural gas.
The Cons of Owning a Prius
Nathan summarizes the downsides of a Prius as being:
- High Vehicle Cost
- Less Power
- Unlikely, but Possible Battery Failure
1. High Vehicle Cost
As of 2011, a Prius will cost around $168,000 (with guaranteed COE). If you’re expecting the petrol savings to make up for that high price, I hope you’re very patient. Nathan says:
“To be frank, don’t expect the petrol savings to make up the difference with another model. Even with the petrol savings and the rebate, the Prius is not the cheapest car. If you get it, get it because you like driving it, or because you really want to help the environment.
But I should add that, if your job requires a lot of driving, then yes…the petrol savings can make up for the cost. Over a long time it may also be true.”
2. Less Power
The Prius will make it’s debut in the World Rally Championships sometime around never. But you already knew that. Nathan doesn’t think this is a “con” at all:
“Even if a normal engine will give you more power, what are you using your car for? Racing? As long as you have no problem when you need to overtake, you don’t end up hogging the road…there’s nothing wrong with the Prius’ speed.”
3. Unlikely, but Possible Battery Failure
Battery failure is the main argument from Prius detractors. Despite the fact that it hasn’t happened to a single Prius sold by Borneo Motors. In the event that you do damage the battery, the replacement is a whopping $7000. But Nathan thinks that:
“If someone can need the battery replaced, they probably got into a bad accident. Or did something really stupid.”
So there you have it; the pros and cons of driving a Prius. Think it over before buying. And in the event you do buy one, feel free to nag people about the environment for the rest of the repayment period.
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