Automakers have been showing off their hybrids to trumpet their environmental commitment. But not all hybrids are created equal. Hybrid technology, as used in such models as the Toyota Prius and Camry Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid, and Ford Escape Hybrid, has the potential to play a major role in giving consumers fuel-efficient, low-pollution options in every vehicle class. Unfortunately, with this year's introduction of vehicles such as the GMC Yukon Hybrid, Dodge Durango Hybrid, and Lexus LS 600h L, the increased automaker focus on "muscle hybrid" models undercuts the value of this technology as a part a global warming pollution, gas price, and oil security solution. This is a disturbing trend compounded by "hollow hybrid" vehicles that use the hybrid name but do not qualify as hybrid vehicles (for more on hybrid vehicle characteristics, see our Hybrid Watchdog. This trend must change, and Toyota, the hybrid "standard bearer" is in position to change it. Since 2001 consumers in Japan have had a choice completely unavailable in the U.S. market—an efficient hybrid minivan. Toyota boasts that its Estima Hybrid minivan, recently redesigned in 2006, gets fuel economy on par with a compact car. We estimate that the Toyota Estima Hybrid could reach at least 35 miles per gallon in the U.S. This would be a significant boost over even the most fuel-efficient models available in America—the Toyota Sienna and Dodge Caravan, both rated by the EPA at 22mpg.
The UCS Hybrid Center wants you to help us get as many people who care about the future of hybrid market, or who just want a family vehicle that gets good fuel economy, to sign onto a petition that we will deliver to Toyota executives on Memorial Day—the unofficial start of the summer driving (and even higher gas price) season, and just before the Toyota annual shareholders meeting. Toyota sells more vehicles in Japan than it does in America. So a petition surpassing their expected Estima sales numbers in Japan would send a strong signal that the U.S. market truly wants a greater choice in fuel-efficient hybrid models.
The Better World Club has graciously donated a number of free memberships to their great service, and we're throwing in free "Cool Car—Cool Planet" t-shirts and window stickers for a contest to help spread the word. So spend a little time help make sure Toyota understands that efficient hybrids can make automakers some real green by being genuinely green, and help hybrid technology live up to its promise.