- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

I make no secret that I like hybrid and alternative-fuel vehicles. As I see it, it is the right thing to do. Sometimes, readers disagree.

A reader recently asked me about the real environmental value of the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic hybrid because air conditioning requires the gasoline engine to operate, rather than letting it shut down while idling.

But whenever new technology is introduced, it has to go through an evolution. There are significant differences between these two models.

The two approach hybrid technology from different directions. While both are capable of mileage better than 50 miles per gallon, the Prius posts better numbers in highway driving, and the Civic is better in the city.

If you drive only in the city, my choice would probably be the Honda. The Civic is primarily a gasoline-powered vehicle with an electric motor assisting. Lots of stop-and-go driving with regenerative braking makes the Honda more fuel-efficient.

The Toyota Prius shines on the open road. It is capable of electric-only driving, but still uses the gasoline engine most of the time.

Neither is wrong, and both as I see them are right. They are right because they are a step in the direction the automotive market needs to go.

There may be some compromises, but the result is worthwhile.

A new Prius due this fall will use electric inverter air conditioning. Instead of running off the fan belt, the new AC is electrically operated. This also improves fuel efficiency because the gasoline engine doesn’t have to be operating. The vehicle’s electric accessories are powered by this inverter.

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