Thursday, 12 June 2008

Hybrid Hysteria

There’s been heaps of media lately about Rudd’s announcement on local production of Hybrid Camrys by Toyota at Altona. Some of the comment, both for and against, has bordered on hysteria.

Precious little commentary has focused on the merits of the hybrid as a vehicle.

About four years ago, the manager of the fleet that I use in my advisory work leased three Toyota Prius Hybrids*. All three have just about finished their lease period, with an average odo reading of about 80000km. This distance has been covered by a range of drivers (a mix of gender, age and experience) and in a variety of conditions (city and bush driving, extremes of temperature, and roads varying from freeways to graded gravel).

On a couple of occasions I used a Prius to drive to places as far west as Cunnamulla, and on one trip I covered 1600km in 5 days. You get to know a vehicle pretty well in these situations.

The cars have proved the most reliable in the fleet, with less down time than, for example, the Commodores. Most drivers, once they’ve adjusted to the unique gear drive selector, enjoy driving them. My personal experience has been positive, especially when driven in the city, where 4.8lit/100km is the best I’ve seen in real world conditions. On the open road, they drop to 5.5 lit/100km, just the opposite phenomenon of conventional vehicles.

They’re not very suitable for gravel surfaces, because of their light build and low ground clearance, but driven with care, they can be used in these situations. They are also not an enthusiast’s car, having as much personality as a wheeled household appliance. But then, if I want to drive something for enjoyment, rather than as a work tool, I’d use my MX5 roadster. My hire vehicle of choice is the Prius, because of the fuel savings. I drove one around Adelaide last January in temperatures over 40 degrees with no hassles.

In fact, if I hadn’t needed a car that would tow a trailer, my last purchase would probably have been a Prius, bought through an ex-government fleet auction. For mine, this is their single biggest disadvantage. Assuming that the engineering on the Camry hybrid is as well-sorted as it obviously is on the Prius, the vehicle itself would be well worth a look. The inability to tow is a liability in the Australian market.

All the rest is politics – and you will understand, dear reader, that I don’t want to go there, despite the fact that everyone else has. Even Barnaby Joyce, a pollie that I admire for his independence, had a go, describing them as “golf carts”. Having driven one out to Barnaby’s territory (St George), I would suggest to him that he drives one and makes up his own mind.

Of course, his comment wouldn’t have anything to do with the politics of the announcement.

*I don't know the plural of Prius.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Chance Encounter

 A few weekends ago, my wife and I traveled to a provincial centre some 80km away to participate in a “show and shine” with our car club.

It was a glorious day – or at least it started out that way – with an autumn sun providing gentle warmth, and no wind to speak of. The road was lightly trafficked; the countryside a picture, and once we left the main road, the drive engaging.

There was a wide variety of vehicles on display ranging from street rods to classic British sports cars. There were also lots of bikes, and of course, bikers.

Standing beside a cluster of Harleys was a leathery looking character wearing a Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle club jacket. He displayed some interesting tats, and wore the signature head scarf. He looked about my age, but wasn’t as grey as me, and looked as fit as a whippet.

Despite my wife’s “are you sure this is a good idea” look, I walked up to him, extended my hand and introduced myself as a fellow veteran.

“Nice bike”, was my observation. He shook my hand. It emerged that he’d been in Vietnam at the same time I was, but had served in 4 RAR. During all this time, he kept his left hand hidden behind his back.

As he relaxed and became more animated, his left hand, or what was left of it, emerged. There was no hand as such, but a well-worn leather gauntlet covering a stump.

“Got shot up in a bunker system”, was his explanation. “Copped it in the arse as well”.

We shared warries about bunkers. My story had a happier ending. I mentioned that I’d gone back to Vietnam a couple of times. He looked at me as if I had rocks in my head.

“I wouldn’t ever do that mate – it would bring back too much shit” was his dismissal. Fair enough.

“The whole bloody thing was completely stupid”, was his closing observation as we wished each other well and went our separate ways.

It rained on the way home, so we had to put the top up. I thought of him. You can’t put a roof on a Harley, but his leathers probably kept him warm and dry.

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...