Today Susan and I had a lot to do. First we were going to Rhodes Furniture to pick up a new chest of drawers I had ordered from them (to replace the blue one that Grant and I used when we lived in the Silvastone basement). Then we were going to Fernbank to see the frogs exhibit (I would still like to take Kelly and Claire when they get a chance) where Susan found some things to buy at the gift shop. Then we were going up to Gwinnett Place to visit Honda and Toyota dealers and test drive some cars Susan was thinking about getting.
The night before I had looked on Atlanta Toyota’s website and they said they had 7 Priuses (Prii?) available. Susan was looking for something fuel efficient and small in addition to her Jeep now that she has decided to keep her house and the daily 30-mile one way commute that goes with it. Honda has three hybrid models: the Insight, Hybrid Civic, and Hybrid Accord. Toyota has only one: the Prius, but it gets 44 mpg (according to Consumer Reports; the EPA estimates are something like 50 highway and 61 city; yes, it gets better mileage in the city partly from turning off the engine when it is stopped and partly because the brakes recharge the battery). The Insight gets better mileage but is a two-seater whereas the Prius is about the size of the Accord inside.
We got to the Toyota lot and the salesmen were waiting like wolves on the Serengheti (I think that should be lions, actually; well, maybe cheetahs; how about jackals?). We were immediately approached by one named Mohammed. We said we wanted to test drive a Prius. He said they only had one on the lot. I said their website said they had seven. “Really?” he said, “I think some of those are just on order.” The Prius is made in pretty small numbers and demand has been very high. People have been paying thousands of dollars above MSRP to get one and waiting lists are as long as nine months. I read some internet posts where Toyota dealers wouldn’t even give test rides because they could just sell any car they could get their hands on. We walked over to the one car (a maroon one, though Toyota calls it Red Salsa) but another customer was already in it and soon her salesman came up with the keys and they drove off. We went into the showroom while our salesman went to find out about the other Priuses they supposedly had. We were told that the website included cars that would arrive in the next week as being in their inventory and that there was only one car on site, though one had been sold earlier in the day.
They didn’t even have a brochure for the Prius. I guess there is a waiting list for that too. We went over to a computer they had set up for customers and visited Toyota’s website to see more about the car. They asked us which option package we’d be interested in so we had to figure out what the option packages were (some were as much as $5,000). Eventually the salesman came back over with some xerox copies of a brochure (or a printout from the webpage).
Eventually the other customers came back and Mohammed got the keys. The Prius is odd because it is just powered by the battery except when it needs the gasoline engine (which can be used to power the car and recharge the battery; you never plug the car in). So when you put the “key” in (you just put the whole remote in a slot), you then press the Power button and some lights come on, but that’s it. We shifted into reverse but it wouldn’t stay and it turns out the shifter doesn’t stay where you put it, but we were in fact in reverse. So Susan backs up, exclaiming how weird it is to be driving a car that doesn’t even seem like it is running. We drove out to I-85 and down a couple of exits and back up to the Toyota dealership. When we got back the car had 27 miles on it and we had probably put a third of them on it. As we got out another salesman came up to Mohammed and asked for the keys, but he shooed him away as he told us to sit in the back seat and see how roomy it is.
After hearing some more about features of the car, Susan told me she really liked how it drove, liked the color, and she thought she would buy it. Consumer Reports gives it good ratings and the $3,000 battery has an 8-year warranty so it is a sensible car, even at about $23,000. And it could easily save Susan $500 per year in gas. Plus there is some kind of tax break where you can write off $2,000 of the price. It would be hard to go wrong buying one, though it is like buying something from Apple where you know you’re getting gouged a little in order to get something insanely great.
So Susan spent the next couple of hours filling out paperwork and doing the financing. And before it was dark, Susan owned a Prius with 27 miles on it. No waiting list and she only paid the MSRP (plus taxes and some kind of administrative fee).
I got to drive it eventually tonight. The gas engine runs most of the time, but it does shut off when you are coasting. At a stop light it feels like the car has stalled because it just goes totally quiet. Even with the engine running it is pretty quiet and you never hear the engine turning over to start up. There is a display that tells you when the engine is on and when the brakes are recharging the battery. It also gives you your current gas mileage which can go up to 99.9 mpg (it would be beyond infinity while you were slowing down because of the regenerative brakes). Mohammed says it gets 500 miles on a tank of gas and it holds 11.9 gallons. It also has a lot of nice little features that you usually only find on higher end cars (light-up vanity mirrors, two glove compartments, AC/heat thermostat, sunglasses case, thermometer, cd player). The car came with Option Package 1 which includes all kinds of airbags. We never made it to the Honda dealer, but it seems like a great car.