Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hybrid havoc

An expansion in the family required five distinct seats and storage, so we faced the dreaded middle-aged American dilemma -- minivan, SUV, crossover -- but with a but one mandatory requirement: our new, bigger car needed to be a hybrid. The auto industry, sluggish to respond to the demand from people like us (or equally likely, keeping supplies limited and prices high, knowing we'll pay), only offers a smattering as of 2008. We considered the Mercury Mariner, but they are hard to come by -- September at the earliest, we were told, and that was by a friend in the business. Aside from a Lexus, that left the Toyota Highlander Hybrid; Boch Toyota in Norwood said come on down for a test drive. "Great day to by a Highlander," said the welcoming sales director. "A hybrid Highlander," I clarified. Toyota is an interesting company in the context of the planetary emergency. The Prius has made history, but the showroom that day was full of huge cars and trucks -- the monster Sequoia SUV, the Tundra pick-up, a minivan here and there, some economy compacts, and no hybrids. We were told we got the last Highlander in stock. As such, Boch wouldn't take a dime off the $38,373 list price, despite the bubbly claim on the telephone that inventory needed to move before the end of the month. Why aren't there more choices? Does anyone seriously think we're all going to be driving gas-powered vehicles in 15 years? Toyota refuses to sell its hybrid minivan in the US (for sale in Japan only), though it would sell briskly in these parts and elsewhere around the nation. We don't need a huge SUV; we just need some extra seating. We would jump at the lightest vehicle possible with the most space and the best fuel economy. The Hybrid Center keeps tabs on how the car companies seem to be making this inevitable transition as difficult as possible. On the way out of the showroom, I asked if there was a recycling bin for the can of Diet Coke I had bought in Ernie's cafe. "Nah," said the cashier. "Just throw it in the trash." I squeezed past a hulking Tundra and headed for the door.