The Reality of Rural Mountain Living and the Future of the Hybrid Car

We need a 4WD PriusI live in a very remote region of far Northern California. I have always dreamed of owning an electric car or plug-in hybrid, as we live off-the-grid with energy to spare to charge a car’s batteries.  The problem is I do most of my driving on dirt roads, and four wheel drive is required at times.  Some of my neighbors have cars, in addition to their 4WDs, so I have dreamed that I could drive a Prius.  Last week, while getting my 4WD repaired in town, I was given a Prius for the day.  This was my chance to test it out and see if it would hold up to my mountain life.

One of the inconveniences of having your car repaired when you live in the country is it is an all day event.  Stuck in town, there is nothing to do but shop and/or see a movie, but I didn’t want to do either of these things. I also didn’t want to drive the two and half hours home to test out the Prius, so I drove to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area and went for a seven mile hike.[social_buttons]

The drive to Whiskeytown gave me a chance to see how the Prius would handle a little climb at high speeds. It had enough power not to get lapped by a log truck, but it didn’t have the same acceleration I was used to with my 4runner. I could live with that for the improved gas mileage; however, once I got off the highway, it was a different story.

The Prius handled the road curves just fine (one benefit to being low to the ground), but the clearance and distribution of weight was a problem once I got on a bumpy back road. The front and rear ends of a Prius are heavy, which caused me to scrape the bottom of the front end going over small bumps at reasonable speeds.   For my life, this would not work.  I cannot drive 5mph on our mountain roads, or I would never make it to my destination.  It is just not reasonable. Clearance is an issue; I can’t pick up every rock that falls onto the road.  I do have a friend that lives on a dirt road and owns a Prius; however, he is only a summer resident in our community.

Toyota has announced that there will be 10 new hybrids on the market in 2010. I really hope one is a real 4WD that gets good gas mileage.  Toyota has earned a reputation amongst mountain people around the world as the most reliable, tough 4WD on the market. We have broken Nissan trucks, Jeeps, and Dodges on our road; only the Toyota has survived (150,000 miles and counting).

Rural people spend a lot of money on gas, as we have to travel farther distances to get to schools and stores.  We need hybrid cars, but these cars need to be able to stand up to rough dirt roads, snow, mud, etc.  We need to be able to put mud terrain tires on our hybrids, and the current SUV hybrids on the market are a joke. Obviously, a hybrid 4WD won’t get the same mileage as a Prius, but have you seen that new hybrid Cadillac Escalade?  They don’t get good mileage, and they are city SUVs.  At one point, Toyota did make an EV Rav4, but those are rare, expensive, and hard to find.  Please Toyota, make a real hybrid or electric car for mountian people!

Image:  Prius Chat

 

Jennifer Lance

Jennifer lives on 160 acres off-the-grid in a home built with her own two hands (and several more skilled pairs of hands) from forest fire salvaged timber. Her home is powered by a micro-hydro turbine, and she has been a vegetarian for 21 years. Jennifer graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in art education and has been teaching art to children for over 16 years. She also spent five years teaching in a one-room schoolhouse before becoming the mother of two beautiful children. Jennifer has a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education and is currently teaching preschool, as well as k-8 art. She enjoys writing, gardening, hiking, practicing yoga, and raising four akitas. Jennifer is the founder and editor of Eco Child's Play (http://ecochildsplay.com) "I’ve always been concerned about the earth and our impact upon it. Now that I have children, I feel compelled to raise them with green values. From organic gardening to alternative energy, my family tries to leave a small carbon footprint." Please visit my other blog: http://reallynatural.com