Thoughts on the Meaning of Life… Todd Helmkamp

Toyota Prius Harms the Environment More than a Hummer

Posted by Vogeler on December 1, 2007

Sounds strange, I know, but here’s a link to the article.

With the new, more realistic, and stricter EPA guidelines for how fuel economy is calculated, the highway economy for the Prius drops to 45 mpg, compared to 37 mpg for the Chevrolet Aveo, which costs around $13,000 nicely equipped, before rebates.  The Prius?  Similarly equipped, around $23,000 before rebates.  To recoup the cost of a Prius over an Aveo, lets take a look at the math.  Both vehicles have a nearly 12-gallon tank (both at 11.9) so we’ll use 12 for the sake of ease.  The average person drives 12,000 miles per year, or not quite 231 miles a week.  Again, let’s use 231 for ease of math.

So, on one tank of gas, at $3 a gallon (12 gallons X $3 = $36):

Prius:   540 miles (45 mpg X 12 gallon fuel capacity)  for $36, refill every 2.34 weeks (540 miles/ tank divided by 231 miles driven/week), total refills 22.22 times $36 /refill: total yearly cost for fuel:  approx $800

Aveo:  444 miles (37 mpg X 12 gallon fuel capacity)  for $36, refill every  1.92 weeks (444 miles/ tank divided by 231 miles driven/week), total refills 27.1 times $36 / refill:  total yearly cost for fuel:  approx $975

So the yearly fuel savings of the Prius over the Aveo is approximately $175.  You’d have to drive it for 63 years to recoup the cost of the vehicle.  Not so good a deal, anymore. (of course, the numbers I used here are “perfect world” numbers; they are a guideline, nothing more.  Your mileage and savings may vary.  So don’t sue me.)

But what about those folks who bought one because its better for the environment to use less fuel?

That’s true.  But the problem is with the nickel in the Prius’ electric battery.  This metal is  mined and smelted at a plant in Ontario, in a town called Sudbury.  The area around Sudbury has become a “dead zone” completely devoid of plant life. The acid rain from the plant is the cause.

Also, for one battery, the nickel goes from Ontario, then to a refinery in Europe, then to China, then to Japan.  Each step of the way, some new step is performed in the process of making the battery.  Finally it returns to the US to be installed in a shiny new Prius for some poor naive person to buy.

The Aveo is not, to my knowledge, considered a “green car”, I was using it for comparison because the article mentioned it in conjunction with the Prius, and because I work for a General Motors dealership, I had tons of info on the Aveo to use and double-check.  So I am not advocating the Aveo as a viable green alternative.

Please, don’t believe the hype touted by Toyota commercials (see my previous post about education).  Do the research for yourself, and figure out which vehicles truly are better for the environment.  Better yet, find people at work with whom to carpool.  Use public transportation when possible.  Walk whenever possible.  Do whatever you can to lessen your impact.  Small steps, put together, equal big gains.


18 Responses to “Toyota Prius Harms the Environment More than a Hummer”

  1. Wow, i’d never have expected that. I thought I’d annoy Bill Oddie enough with a hummer but now there is a better alternative. Thanks, i’ll buy one right away.

  2. Welcome, extrapreneur! Thanks for the comment!

    (FYI, I have moved your URL to your profile, rather than the text of your comment)

  3. Irv Miller said

    The following was published on June 7, 2007 on the Toyota Open Road Blog.

    We reported earlier this week that our Prius hybrid vehicle contributed significantly to our strong sales results for May with a record 24,009 Prius sold across the U.S.

    Which had us wondering about all of the potential energy savings that might have resulted had our competitor to the east of us sold 24,009 Hummers instead.

    After all, it’s been well publicized across the net, in respected newspapers and even by the authoritative columnist himself, George Will, that the Hummer uses less energy per mile than our own Prius.

    The source of this energy buzz is, of course, the 458-page “Dust-to-Dust: The Energy Costs of New Vehicles from Concept to Disposal” published by CNW Marketing Research. There, you may recall, our Prius was expected to last only 15 years and poop out at only 100,000 miles. The Hummer, on the other hand, would be plowing its way through the nation’s highways for 35 years and make it to 300,000 miles.

    I’m a car guy, not a scientist, and certainly not a mathematician who might be able to explain the logic and turn what seems like a bit of tomfoolery into bona-fide research. Enter Dr. Peter H. Gleick of the Pacific Institute. Dr. Gleick digested all 458 pages of the CNW Report, but came short of calling it bona-fide research. Way short. Gleick’s documented report, Hummer vs. Prius, just published by the Pacific Institute calls “Dust-to-Dust” Bad Science, flawed by faulty analysis and untenable assumptions.

    Like I said, I’m an automotive veteran and a corporate PR guy interested in facts and truth. So I would hardly know bad science from good science. But I’ll tell you this, after reading the Pacific Institute’s Gleick Report, released as part of its Integrity of Science Initiative, I am oh-so-happy to know that our Prius cracked the Top 10 Vehicle Sales rank last month with those 24,000+ sales.

    Kind of a relief to know too, that American consumers and the car-buying public evidently share the same conclusions drawn by the Pacific Institute that the only real way to cut our consumption of fossil fuels in the transportation sector are to develop vehicles that use alternative energy sources and to build more efficient cars. Buy a Prius, too!

    ~ Contributed by Irv Miller, Group Vice President – Corporate Communications

  4. Hi, Irv, and welcome!

    Although I am naturally skeptical of anything favorable about a Toyota vehicle coming from Toyota themselves (remember, I do work for an automotive dealership!) I am not familiar with the Peter Gleick report. I will check that out, and let everyone know what I think.

    Thanks for the countering view.

  5. […] Toyota Prius Harms the Environment More than a Hummer […]

  6. […] Original post by toddhelmkamp […]

  7. JerryW said

    Surely this old claptrap isn’t still circulating? It has been utterly discredited ages ago. Both the calculations and assumptions are incorrect, as is the information about the nickel, its source and the environmental damage.

    Hummer more environmentally friendly than a Prius? And you really believed that??

  8. Welcome, Jerry!

    Do you have some sources for me so I can check it out? I will readily admit my mistake if what I’ve stated is incorrect, but I need to check it out for myself first.

  9. Marc said

    It’s actually kind of embarassingly obvious that the CNW report is a fraud. They won’t reveal their funding sources or methodologies. Unlike nearly every other dust-to-dust study, they weigh the first phase (months of production) most heavily instead of the second phase (years of operation). And to get higher score for the hummer, they assume ~400k miles driven for the Hummer vs. ~100k for the Prius.

    There are powerful business interests that stand to lose from better fuel economy, and would prefer the public not buy Aveos or Priuses…..which are both great efficient cars.

  10. Maybe I should reiterate that I am not advocating that everyone go out and buy a Hummer. My point is that the Prius is NOT everything that its made out to be: it is not the solution to our environmental issues like people say it is.

  11. I think if we are going to site this piece of poor science we should also let readers site a well written review of the article that tells a slightly more rosy picture of the Prius
    It is a shame that the power of the internet to inform and educate is so aften subverted by those with agendas. It is even worse when that same gossip style science is given any creadence and repeated.

  12. Dear Readers:

    Having read the report by Dr. Gleick of the Pacific Institute that was referenced above, and several other reports, I conclude that there are serious errors and misrepresentations in the CNW report, and that the allegations made about the Toyota Prius are not based in fact. I encourage my readers to check out the report listed above, and also do their own research.

    I apologize for having helped spread this unfounded report, and promise to conduct more independent research before posting something like this again.

    Thank you.

  13. […] In case you didn’t read my blog about the Prius not being environmentally sound, go read it now.  After doing some more research, I have discovered that the article I was citing was based upon […]

  14. I recently thought about buying a Prius. I decided that before buying I should take one for a long drive. So I rented one for three days and did a road trip. Sorry in New Zealand we use Litres and Kilometers I don’t understand US units. First leg was 200km at night mostly open road but not freeway. The lights were great, no problems overtaking at 100km/h (60mph) quiet and smooth. The cornering was OK but not racecar like, perfectly fine for most situations. I got 4.6km/l on this leg.

    Next day was about town, pulling out into traffic it accelerated with ease on both city streets and motorway on ramps. It took a bit to get used to doing parallel park with the gears on the dash.

    Next day 100km on winding road with a large range of hills in the way. Twenty Km or so of uphill winding road, it handled this with ease overtaking it was easy to get to 120km/h from 100km/h even up hills. The battery did go down a bit by the top to about 3 bars but the downhill on the other side which is much steeper fully charged it up again. This was the first time we had a 5 min bar without using any petrol at all! The windy road on the other side at 100km/h was ok but not fantastic driving. I also own a 1100cc BMW bike so I do know about going fast and hard cornering. It did feel safe and didn’t do anything I didn’t expect but it didn’t leap up and say drive me hard I like it either.

    Gravel road on a farmers driveway was fine with a bit of being bounced around due to the light weight and firm suspension, didn’t have any trouble uphill on the gravel even when it was fairly steep.

    Was trying to keep the economy good but this was much harder to do on the winding country road as you would expect. Rest of the day was the trip home a few more windies and some motorway at night. Finally got home after 630km and put 30 litres of gas in which is fantastic! This trip would have cost me twice as much in my Toyota RAV4 three door manual.

    Next morning I gave the car back with a heavy heart, I just didn’t want to give it back.\

    It did everything I asked it to better than I ever thought it could. Great acceleration for everyday driving and overtaking, quiet, low fuel usage two people and heaps of luggage and it still felt empty and it has a feel good factor. So yes buy one, i will be as soon as I can scrape the money together 🙂

  15. nathan said

    I might note here, that even though the hummer report may be a load of crap, your numbers on the aveo vs. prius are good numbers.
    Even with my wife’s yearly 20K a year, it would take more than 30 years to recoup the cost differential there.

    So, you still do have a valid point about the aveo.

    Just thought I’d through a little sugar in this thread.

  16. -Blaze Lawrence said

    If you tend to make long trips then the so acclaimed Prius doesn’t make much sense again. The Toyota doesn’t get nearly as good of millage when compared to some other cars. really in use the prius is good in a place like New York, New York, where a car is often in stop and go traffic, or just for around the block. A much more effciant car is for instance the Honda Civic (non-hybrid). Costs less, and is more fuel effective on longer drives, or small traffic jams.


    I can cite cread-able sources.
    Plus my family owns both of these cars, and many other “gas saving, energy efficient, and ‘green'” cars.

    If u have any questions Email me at, or

  17. -Blaze Lawrence said

    The other email address is actually Sorry for any inconvenience.


  18. Eric said

    Blaze, you are absolutely right about the Honda Civic being the best car for driving long distances.

    I live 50 miles south of Los Angeles, which is roughly a full tank of gas (11.9 gallons) from Las Vegas. I drove there (for the second time) 18 months ago, and recorded 37mpg on the way there, and 35mpg on the way back. My car is a 2000 Honda Civic EX coupe which on average gets 27-28 miles per gallon around town.

    It was the first time I had ever tracked the fuel efficiency on a long drive, so I was quite surprised to see how well it performed.

    I must add that after completing the 300+-mile trip to Las Vegas, I still had a quarter of a tank left. I filled up so I could see how many gallons I used, and did the same when I arrived home. Pretty good performance for a 6 1/2-year-old car, if you ask me. Only cost me $14,000 in 2000 as well.

    The only thing I miss is being able to give the gas station employee a 20-dollar bill and walking back inside for $6 change. It now costs three times that amount to fill it up, though at 8 years old it still outperforms many cars on the road.

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